Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

28 June 2007

Door-to-door Sales

A man came to my door today and knocked quite loudly. Truth be told, he woke me from a nap I had just settled down to about ten minutes prior And Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap... Anyway, he was hocking security systems. They do that door-to-door nowadays, doncha know? Maybe it's because I was off-guard (having just awakened), maybe it's because he was so darn persistent, maybe because it really is about time I got a security system for this house before I have to leave it all by itself again for an extended period of time, but I took the bait and signed on the dotted line with this guy. The contract—get this—is for a whopping thirty-six months! I don't think I've ever committed to anything for thirty-six months. I mean, even college doesn't count. You can change majors or cut classes or drop out, even. Three whole years of security monitoring, paid monthly. It's a long (gay) marriage.

Today, I'm reading a book called The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities. I like it, for the most part. The author, Robert McRuer does this thing—a lot of intellectuals do it—where he makes up a word by combining two words. It drives me crazy. People do it all the time in academic prose and you've probably seen me do it once in a while (shame on me). Like this, from page 39 of the book:
A Boy's Own Story and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name were both published in 1982, when the cultural phenomenon I call "the Queer Renaissance" had only just begun. Through an examination of these two very different coming-out stories, I want to flaunt the ways coming out has been reinvented in the Queer Renaissance as a myth of queer (op)positionality.
See what he's doing there with (op)positionality. He is able to discuss the queer subject's positioning of him- or herself at the same time he is able to call to our attention the fact that this position is created in opposition to an already present normative (and contrary) position. Writers do it all the time. (This same writer keeps saying "an/other" too.) I'm not sure why this device bugs me so much. Anyway, it does bug me. Maybe because it feels like a kind of pun: something the writer thinks is funny or clever but at which I can only groan.

I took this book to the coffee shop with me to read today, but I also took a book of plays because I get so tired of reading only scholarship all the time. I need some plays in my life to help me swallow all of that difficult theorizing. So I took this book Fruit of Your Loins by Carl Morse with me to the coffee shop. And I turned it over just in case a passerby might happen to glance over at the table and see the book. I didn't want anyone to freak out if they saw the cover. It was rather closety of me, but I couldn't help it. The coffee shop is with the lord and I don't want to upset anyone innocently reading The Screwtape Letters. Sheesh! Maybe I'm regressing.

This afternoon I watched Ugetsu, a Japanese ghost tale from the 1950s. I liked it fairly well. It didn't have the fun technical flourishes to which I've become accustomed from clever 1950s filmmakers like Jean-Pierre Melville and Satyajit Ray, so I have to admit I was a little bored. Or maybe it was the story, which is a kind of conventional lesson-learning tale about greed. It was no Kon Ichikawa movie, that's for sure. (Have you rented The Burmese Harp yet? If you want a good 1950s Japanese film, go for that one.)

A Case Against Essentialism

The more I study queer theory, the more I dislike notions of essentialism when it comes to gay and lesbian identity. I was listening to a discussion yesterday on Talk of the Nation and they were talking about the "biology of gaydar". The guest discussed the "fact" that left-handed people are 50% more likely to be gay or lesbian, that the whorl on top of a person's head has been statisticized in gay men and the direction of the whorl has been shown to coincide with homosexuality—I can't remember whether the supposedly gay direction was clockwise or counter-clockwise. He also said that scientists now believe that homosexuality develops in utero, that the causes of homosexuality are some combination of both nature and culture.

But I don't even understand why anyone is interested in this question other than some kind of homophobic notion of origins. If there is a gay gene and homosexuality is caused by some kind of genetic variation from normal heterosexuality, then homosexuality selectively removed from all culture, right? We can get rid of the gay gene. Why else look for it? But problems exist with the other argument, too. If homosexuality is learned behavior, somehow caused through culture, then homosexuality becomes a kind of choice or training. If it is a choice, then it doesn't need to be made by gay people and they can choose heteronormativity instead. If it is caused by inculturation or training of some sort, then homophobic (i.e. most) parents can modify their own behavior and train their children to be heteronormative. The worse part of the culture argument—it seems to me—is a notion of blame: it's the mother's fault (a Freudian explanation), it's the homosexual's fault, it's the gay community's fault, it's the fault of gay parents, it's the fault of society at large (the Falwell explanation).

But all of this essentialist talk effaces the history of homosexuality on the ground. Foucault tells us that homosexuality is a construction of the nineteenth century, hardly something that can be essentialized biologically. Indeed, heterosexuality only came into being in the nineteenth century. Further, if homosexuality is genetic then it must be a) transcultural, b) transnational, and c) transhistorical, none of which are possible. Studies of this kind also ignore the entire notion of the closet (a twentieth century construction), whereby people can hide (and also declare) their homosexuality. Like the old adage "99% of men masturbate and the other 1% are lying", we can't come anywhere near a comprehensive study of gayness or lesbianness when such a thing as the closet exists. People are not honest about their sexual habits, proclivities and desires (nor should they be).

The very definition of "gay" is a nebulous thing. Are gay people only attracted to people of the same sex? What if they were at one time attracted to someone of the opposite sex? Does that make them only partly gay? What about "straight" people? Shouild a heterosexual person who has at one time experienced desire for someone of her own sex be classified only as partly straight? Is there such a thing as pure straight or pure gay? What do these definitions give us? People are different from one another. The gender of a person's sexual object choice (itself something fluid, even in a single person) is just one form of difference between people. We need to embrace notions of difference and lose notions of gay essentialism. I don't understand what purpose they serve.

27 June 2007

Oh the Humanity!

Robert Wise's 1975 film The Hindenburg is a curious kind of disaster film. It was made in the 1970s, in peak disaster film time (Airport was made in 1970, The Poseidon Adventure was '72, then Earthquake and the mother of all disaster films The Towering Inferno arrived in '74). The Hindenburg is set up like a disaster film, too. It's cast is enormous: George C. Scott, Gig Young, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Roy Thinnes. And in what I guess is a weird coincidence, William Atherton, Burgess Meredith and Richard A. Dysart, all of whom were in (also from 1975) The Day of the Locust, which I just screened earlier this week.

The weird thing about The Hindenburg is that the disaster doesn't happen until the last half hour of the film. All of the rest is just setup. Seriously, there are ninety minutes of setup. It's really strange. The Hindenburg, I suppose, unlike most other disaster films is based on fact, and so it is hampered a little by history, but it's an oddly made film. It's also not nearly as campy as other disaster films (see my review of Airport '77). Robert Wise, instead, has made a serious drama, dealing with anti-Nazi Germans and the difficulties of living in Germany for conscientious objectors to Hitler's regime. The acting is excellent (Anne Bancroft and William Atherton in particular) and the special effects are pretty cool for 1975. Anyway, it's worth a look-see if you're into disaster flicks.

26 June 2007


Everyone always said that The Seventh Seal, Bergman's 1957 meditation on death (and the film that made him a star) was a film about a man playing chess with Death. Um, okay, so Max Von Sydow does play chess with Death, but the film isn't about a dance with death or anything like that. Von Sydow isn't even the star of the film.

Instead, The Seventh Seal is a very cool and intriguing meditation on how each of us deals with death, how we run from it, the different ways we try to stave it off. It's also filled with all kinds of atheist meditations about the alleged afterlife and asks moral questions about saving lives and causing deaths and the ludicrousness of religious fervor in the face of death. It's an intriguing, beautifully shot film with a great ending and some lovely poetic moments. Gunnar Björnstrand, the film's star (he plays Von Sydow's squire) is wonderful: skeptical, practical and filled with hate, both for his master and most of the people around him, and yet truly compassionate and generous. It's a wonderful role and the actor is great.

Truth be told, the bits with Death and the chessboard were all kind of silly, almost laughable. I couldn't help chuckling at the first scene with Death on the beach. All I could think of was Woody Allen's Love and Death. Allen loves Bergman and his spoof of The Seventh Seal is an ingenious one. At any rate, I quite liked the film, mostly because it wasn't at all what I was expecting.

P.S. I'm currently reading some Charles Busch plays (The Lady in Question, Psycho Beach Party, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom). This shit is hilarious.

25 June 2007

New Favorite Movie

I feel like I wasted the whole day. Mostly because I actually did waste the whole day. I spent a lot of time watching John Schlesinger's 1975 film The Day of the Locust. The movie is boring and tiresome and I kept getting irritated and confused with it (a lot like I would if I were watching one of David Lynch's ridiculous nonsensical films). Some of the performances are good. It stars William Atherton, Karen Black, Donald Sutherland and Burgess Merideth. Geraldine Page makes a cameo as a faith healer (in a weird sequence totally typical of this film.) I pretty much hated it. It reminded me a lot of James Ivory's The Wild Party, actually. It's set in the same time period and it has a very similar look as far as light goes. More than Ivory, though, Day of the Locust reminded me of Lynch. And I don't like to be reminded.

But YESTERDAY, I finally saw Bernardo Bertolucci's Il Conformista (The Conformist) which is one of the best movies I've ever seen in my life. It was shot by Vittorio Storaro and stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the eponymous conformist, a Fascist sympathizer in Mussolini's Italy. It's a gorgeous-looking film with beautiful performances and fabulous costumes. It's filled with symbolism, too. Evidently Bertolucci was a little obsessed with symbolism at the time, but as I was watching I kept thinking that I was watching a master filmmaker. This movie is superb!

24 June 2007

More Wertenbaker

There is a Vegas post to come, but I don't have time for it right now and I wanted to share a little bit from the book I finished on the plane today. It's Timberlake Wertenbaker's second volume of plays published by Faber & Faber and it includes the plays The Break of Day, After Darwin, Credible Witness, The Ash Girl and a radio play called Dianeira. Some of my favorite moments:

From The Break of Day
Tess: What's feminism for if we still hate each other?
Nina: It's a peace treaty not a love feast.

From After Darwin
Millie: I still can't believe in generosity without idealism.
Tom: That's because you're homophobic. How do you think we survive?

From Credible Witness
Petra: When we give birth to our sons, we hold them more tightly than our daughters, we tremble when they're sick, we would die to protect them, but then we ask them to be men. Our history tells us to make sons that will fight—if that's not right, what have we been doing for hundreds of years?

From Dianeira
Irene: It could go on, this argument, but in the end, fathers do eat their sons if they can, there is no other myth that rings so true. I know you young people like to think differently, but you give yourselves the illusion of too much power. You do what your fathers tell you in the end, one way or the other, even now, you'll die by their order. . . . And now the long arm of Heracles bows down the head of his son and turns this young man full of hope and life and possible love into a man overflowing with resentment, anger. And so it continues.

19 June 2007

Poetry Corner

This weekend someone randomly mentioned the following line from Lewis Carroll:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail

We wracked our brains trying to remember the rest of it and eventually came up with the following:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

I mentioned the poem to my father today and he immediately remembered the last three lines, but couldn't think of anything else.
This got us to talking about other (nonsensical) poetry. Dad offered:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Clever, no? The discussion of limericks quickly devolved, however, and my father reminded me of a poem (I'm not sure it is a true limerick) he thinks my uncle Fried invented after a less than adequate fishing expedition:

I went to the sea with my line and my rod
I had great dreams of tuna and cod
The waves were rough; the sea was mean
In went my line, out came a sardine
Into the trash with my line and my rod

My grandmother Janie also had a poem she frequently repeated. This one is, I think an old traditional:

I wish I was a little rock
A-sittin’ on a hill.
Doin’ nothin’ all the day
Just a-sittin’ still.
I wouldn’t eat
I wouldn’t sleep
I wouldn’t even wash.
I’d just sit still
A thousand years
And rest myself, b’gosh.

"I wish I WERE," I corrected my father. But my mother corrected me. They've started to allow "was" in that sense now, she told me. Damned Modern Language Association. I know I sound conservative but "I wish I WAS"? It just doesn't sound right.

Covering the Spectrum

A couple days ago I watched Claude Chabrol's adaptation of Madame Bovary with Isabelle Huppert. It's a very well-crafted adaptation with some excellent acting and absolutely gorgeous costumes. The story, though, remains very problematic for me. It's not a very feminist tale, is it? Emma Bovary is a woman who doesn't belong in her situation. She's too talented and too much of a dreamer to be stuck in her provincial existence. In this way, everything she does seems justified. But then she is painted as living an unsustainable existence, a burning meteor headed for a crash landing. It ends badly for Emma, and there seems to be a sense of justice in the story. She gets what she deserves. And yet, she doesn't get what she deserves; not if she is justified in her actions and is as life-starved as the author makes her out to be at first. It's a deeply ambivalent tale.

A hundred miles from Claude Chabrol is Judd Apatow's Knocked Up. I assume everyone has seen this movie already. If you haven't, you really must. It's very, very funny with some excellent acting. The movie is too long (as was Apatow's other film The 40 Year Old Virgin), but it's original and clever with a wealth of funny business. I liked it better than Virgin, but I don't suppose that will be the general consensus. My favorite performance in the film is by Leslie Mann, who plays Katherine Heigl's sister. First of all, she has fantastic hair throughout the film, but her comic timing is exquisite and I believed her in every moment. I also felt like I could always laugh at her, even when she was crying or screaming or being a shrew. It's a terrific performance. I also want to say something about Paul Rudd, who looks ubelievably, impossibly gorgeous. Clueless was twelve years ago and he is better looking now than he was then. It's incredible.

And then this morning my sister and I watched Jules Dassin's 1948 film The Naked City, which is out now in a Criterion edition that shows off its absolutely splendid film noir photography. This is a superbly crafted police drama. It's not as noirish as I was expecting, but I absolutely loved it on its own merits. It's a murder mystery and a bit of a melodrama, but it's mostly a detective story with the crusty, loveable Barry Fitzgerald as chief detective and a young Don Taylor as his legwork man. Check this one out if you're into really cool 1940s cinematography.

I'm leaving Los Angeles tomorrow morning, so the next week or so is a little bit up in the air, but I have had a very nice time here and I have been lucky enough to spend some serious time with a lot of friends.

13 June 2007

Queer Moment of the Day

Seeing Jersey Boys was one of the least queer things I did today.

This story takes place out at dinner with my family. I'm there with my brother, his fiancée Rosie, my mom, dad, sister, a friend of my mom's and Audrey, who is my brother's best friend's girlfriend.

So my brother is telling a story about how Rosie's friend calls him "Clear Boy" because he's so white. Now, my brother is definitely white, but he has a tan, waaay more of a tan than I have. So I say, "Wow, if she calls you clear boy I wonder what she would call me!"

To which Audrey says, "No, he said CLEAR boy."


Bar Trivia

The sounds of "Space Oddity" fill the bar as Justin, Elizabeth and I try to think of the answer to:

Beside the Columbia, which exploded in 2003, what are the names of the four other space shuttles that NASA has built?
When we walked into the bar we had no idea we were walking into a Tuesday edition of Bar Trivia at the old Westwood Brewing Company.

But walk into a game we did. It had already started but we decided to play anyway, having only missed five of the questions. This is not a small bar and there were at least a dozen other teams playing, but Elizabeth, Justin and I emerged victorious. My boy Justin knows some serious fucking trivia. It was awesome. I don't think I've ever won anything like this. It was so much fun. And the prize was $30.00!

Went to the Griffith Observatory today, too; with Ashley and Leonard Nimoy. It's brand new and lovely.

12 June 2007

Four (+) Movies from CA

I've been seeing a lot of people lately and spending time with them, so my movie-watching (and certainly my scholarship-reading) has been relegated to the backburner. I am almost finished with one of the coolest books in gender studies I've ever read (I've read so few that each one seems cooler than the next); it's called Space, Time, and Perversion and it's by an Australian philosopher named Elizabeth Grosz. It's thick with psychoanalytic theory (blech) and lots and lots of feminist philosophy (yay!)

So, movies: Hondo with John Wayne is actually really good. It had been a while since I watched a Wayne western. This one is fun. It's short and tightly scripted, which is always a plus, and there are some very fun action sequences. Wayne still looks great (the film is from '53, well after he had become a star in the late 1930s) and Hondo also stars a new-to-the-screen Geraldine Page, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for her work in the film. Hondo is no Shane, but it's worth a rental if you're in a western mood.

I thought Shrek the Third was pretty funny. It's totally mindless, but it's certainly not boring and there's enough Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas to keep you giggling. The pop culture references seem older, too: references to Dionne Warwick, "Live and Let Die" and A Chorus Line are not aimed at children, surely. My friend and I were cracking up and knew that no kids in the theatre even were aware that there had been a joke. As usual, the humor that is aimed at the kids is the kind you probably don't want your kids picking up. This is the bizzare part of the Shrek franchise to me. Do you really want to teach your children to emulate fart jokes and that what is really funny are jokes about earwax and poo? Weird.

Seventies horror flick Eyes of Laura Mars is a bit of a classic. It made lots of money in 1978, when it came out, and it starred the fabulous (and brilliant) Faye Dunaway, who had just won an Oscar for my favorite movie of all time Network. Laura Mars may be a classic, but it's also pretty terribly clichéd, if you ask me. It's central heroine, who seems a strong, confident, cosmopolitan artist who is at the top of her game and is great at her work is reduced, as the film goes on, to the oh-so-typical damsel-in-distress type. In a day and age where I expect my heroines to kick ass and fuck a murderer up, Laura Mars seems rather banal, even if she is plagued with visions of the future. (This might be one of the reasons the Spider-man franchise puts me to sleep, too.)

Speaking of action heroines, Paprika the new Kon Satoshi anime offering, is totally weird and very, very cool. It's about dreams and it's filled with all of this weird Freudian and Lacanian imagery. I was crazy about it, and its heroine is a truly badass chick. Plus, as is usual for Kon, Paprika is a visual knockout. See this one in the theatre, y'all.

05 June 2007

Nerd Herd

So Justin asks me the other day if I know anything about the new J.R.R. Tolkien book The Children of Húrin and I say that, yes, I do know about it. It's a repackaged and republished version of various texts that Christopher Tolkien has already published under his father's name once before and that there really isn't anything new in the book.

Conversation continues about Lord of the Rings until Wahima brings up Tom Bombadil. "He doesn't make any sense in the books" someone says and I explain that Tolkien liked having this anomalous character in the giant book, writing it off as something to which he knows the answer, but no one else needs to know. I explain the theory (to which I subscribe) that Tom Bombadil is actually Aulë, one of the Valar.

And then I realize what a fucking geek I am. Why do I know so much about this?

It's like my friend Jai and "Star Trek". Derek and I love to laugh at how much she knows about The Next Generation, so we start talking about the show (we know hardly anything about it) incorrectly, knowing she won't be able to continue without correcting all our errors and explaining all the intricacies of plot and "Star Trek" lore that she knows. It's hilarious every time because she just can't help sounding like a nerd. She utters undeniably funny sentences like "No, she's actually 500 years old; that's why when the borg army came she knew what they were even though no one else understood that the planet was going to implode." You get the drift.

This is what I sounded like on Friday night. Wahima asks about "that brown wizard" to which I responded "Oh you mean Radagast the Brown. Yeah, he's actually part of an order of, well, they're sort of like angels, I guess, called the Istari (or is it Istári?). There are actually five of them: Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and two other blue wizards. They were sent by Manwë during the Third Age." I seriously couldn't help myself. What is there to do with asinine trivia except repeat it to people who don't care about it?

04 June 2007

L.A. Update #2

I've been keeping busier. Last night I went to see Luisa Fernanda at Los Angeles Opera. It was delightful. I hated the set, but I had never seen a zarzuela before, and this was a really cool experience particularly because I got to hear Plácido Domingo sing the lead male role. Boy does that man have a voice!
Being downtown made my heart ache to live in Los Angeles again. There's Southern California and there's Southern California. I realized today that I like living in Tallahassee a lot better than I like living in La Verne (where my folks live). Everyone is so white out here and it all feels so... I don't know how else to describe it except by using the word fake. Everything is a chain store: chain coffee and chain restaurants and chain clothing stores and more chain restaurants. Chain hardware stores and chain movie rental stores. Chain jewelry stores, chain bagel shops and chain auto mechanics. It's a town without a bookstore. At least Tallahassee feels lived in. It's an eerie feeling: like living in a big Hollywood movie where everything is predictable.
But downtown doesn't feel like that at all. It feels different and new and messy and unpredictable. I went to the opera with Derek. We didn't even dress up: jeans and dress shirts. And we had a great time. It's just so nice down there. And the weather! I love Los Angeles.

I finished Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's book Epistemology of the Closet which is really brilliant. And I started Foucault's The History of Sexuality Part II: The Use of Pleasure, but I am getting a little bored. I need some fiction in my life, I think. Maybe I will pick up some Noël Coward for a lark.

I've been watching movies too. Melville's Bob le Flambeur (1956) is easily as good as his later masterpieces Le Samouraï and Le Cercle Rouge. I am in LOVE with Jean-Pierre Melville. This man makes some brilliant fucking movies. Bob is an über-cool heist film without a heist. And it's an obvious predecessor to what would be called the French New Wave. The French New Wave would have been unthinkable without Bob le Flambeur (or, I think, Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows, another must-see from the 1950s.) It's a mid-1950s noir, betraying Melville's fascination with all things Yankee, but it's attitudes and self-satisfaction are unmistakeably French. Add this one to your Netflix queue.

Captain Blood is your standard Errol Flynn swashbuckler. The first one, I think. I'd never seen it, and I liked it a lot. There isn't quite enough swordfighting for my taste, but it's totally fun nonetheless and the cinematography is amazing. It also stars Olivia de Havilland, who was in all of those 1930s Errol Flynn pictures with him—before she finally escaped with Gone with the Wind and started racking up Oscars for her shelves.

Everyone's been hailing Once as a new kind of movie musical. It's a really good film, but it isn't really a watershed event in movie musical history or anything like that. Actually, it's not even really a musical so much as it is a movie with a lot of music in it. The movie follows an aspiring musician in Ireland as he records his first album and falls in love. It's filled with songs that he strums out on a guitar. I really liked it, and it has a near-perfect ending, but don't go in expecting it to change your life. It's just a really cool indie.

And Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is no Oldboy. That's all I'm saying.