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

30 October 2010


While recently watching The Celluloid Closet in preparation for showing it to my Sexuality & Representation class, some clips from Rebel without a Cause came on the screen. "He died so young," I mumbled with a sigh. My roommate offered that "Yes, he did. And he only made three movies." I thought a bit about what she said, confused, and then I realized she was talking about James Dean and I had been talking about Sal Mineo.

Love him.


To say that I love her would be a vast understatement.

29 October 2010

The Facebook Movie(s)

There are people in the world who are not on facebook, I know, but I have to admit to being surprised every time that I meet one of them. "You're not on facebook? How do you keep in contact with people?" My indignation and confusion are justifiable. The ubiquity of facebook is not just my imagination. Take the poster for David Fincher's The Social Network as an example:
The poster recreates the blue facebook address bar and uses the facebook font for its title. The only other indication that this poster is for "the facebook movie" – as we were all calling it in the months before it came out – is the (newly redefined) word "friends" in the tagline. How, in fact, could anyone make 500 million friends without facebook.

I assume everyone has already seen The Social Network, so by now you know that "the facebook movie" is not so much about facebook as it is the story of the people who where there when facebook started and when facebook became the awesome juggernaut of a communication phenomenon that it is today. The Social Network is nominally a movie about the young men who designed and built facebook, the lawsuits that they have since filed against one another disputing each other's claim to facebook's invention, and Mark Zuckerberg himself, the world's youngest billionaire.

The Social Network is a very good movie. Beautifully directed, it has David Fincher's usual technologically marvelous touch: take the Winklevoss twins, who are played by a single actor (Armie Hammer, who is excellent). The movie boasts some great acting all around. Jesse Eisenberg gives one of my favorite performances of the year as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield is great, Justin Timberlake is perfectly cast and does a stellar job, and the movie has a flawless supporting cast.

The real star of The Social Network is Aaron Sorkin, of course, and this is clear from the first few minutes of the film. Sorkin crafts an opening sequence that tells us almost all the movie's ever going to tell us about the inner workings of Mark Zuckerberg, and the scene moves so quickly and with such unadulterated joy (at moviemaking, at itself, at the flexibility of the English language) that one cannot help but grin watching it. The Social Network is excellent, there is no denying it, and yet, it left me a little cold. In this sense: I kept wanting to know more about Mark Zuckerberg, about what he was thinking, why he did the things he did, how friendship and business fit together for him. The Social Network does not tell us these things.

It is not as though Sorkin, Fincher, and company are not interested in Zuckerberg's inner workings. They deliberately obfuscate them. The film designs Zuckerberg as a mystery. We do not know what is going on in his head and the film makes it clear that we cannot, or that we are not supposed to, that what is inside Zuckerberg's head is going to stay there. The scene where Mark has his (apparently) first sexual experience (in a restaurant bathroom, no less) is representative of what I am talking about. Our main character is experiencing something life-altering, brand new, eminently pleasurable, and the camera never finds him. The camera stays on his friend in the next bathroom stall and we hear Zuckerberg and the young lady but never have access to how he feels about this very important experience in his life.

This is what The Social Network is, after all, about, of course: mystery, the failings of memory, the missed connections of friendship, the inability to get back to concrete truths, the difficulties of putting things in order, of saying what came before what, even a few days or weeks after things have happened. This is also a testament to how fast the world moves nowadays. Things get away from us. Before we know it, in The Social Network, so much has happened! Suddenly everyone has read your livejournal entry. Suddenly your website has 200,000 hits. Suddenly the man is a billionaire. It's a whole new world.

This world is further explored – and in a movie that I liked even more than Fincher's – in a documentary called Catfish by filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Catfish is flat-out brilliant and everyone needs to go see it as soon as you can.

The film follows Ariel Schulman's brother Nēv, a New York photographer, as he begins an internet relationship with a seven-year old girl who is a painter and who lives in Michigan. The correspondence with the seven-year-old transforms into a regular correspondence with the little girl's nineteen-year-old sister Meghan, who is a dancer and who plays guitar. They correspond regularly, and though they meet through facebook, they begin talking on the phone, texting, emailing, etc. Then the filmmakers follow Nēv to Michigan to meet Meghan.

Do not let anyone tell you what they find there before you watch this movie.

Every review of Catfish has danced around what the boys find when they get to Michigan, and I am not going to spoil it here. Part of the pleasure of the movie is the suspense that the movie builds. There are moments in Catfish when I was squirming in my seat I was so nervous about what they were going to find.

But Catfish is even more than a movie about great thrills and suspense. It (unlike The Social Network) is really a movie about how facebook has changed our real lives, and how the abilities to connect that facebook provides us have powerful impacts on us and how we see ourselves.

The final forty minutes of Catfish are a kind of double character study, exploring the power of the virtual, the real gravity of the imaginary – even when we know we are imagining it! Catfish figures out that there are real feelings in all of those online data, real emotions swept up in the pokes and the pictures and the tags and the status updates. Those projections – call them imaginary at your peril – affect us so profoundly, and they have become so much a part of who we are and how we understand ourselves, that to pretend that they are "just" words or "just" data or "just" pictures is not only foolish it is to fundamentally miss what it means to communicate in the twenty-first century.

I completely loved Catfish. Go see it. Take a friend. You will still be thinking about it weeks later. I promise.

21 October 2010

La Stone

I am not sure how other people feel about Sharon Stone. I adore her. She is, first of all, both incredibly sexy and ridiculously talented. And as a human being -- well, I don't know the woman, obviously, but in interviews -- I find her thoughtful, spiritual, generous, and inspiring.

 So damn fabulous.

20 October 2010

Twenty-five Things

This list of random bits of information about me comes from a facebook meme that circulated in January of 2009. I never posted it here, but I am posting it now because I revisited it a few days ago (for various reasons) and found that it was still quite accurate and not uninteresting. The requirement of the meme is simply that one lists 25 "random" things about oneself. This was my list in January 2009. So:

1. In the last year or so I have become an angry feminist.

2. I was a Christian until I went to university. I had a mini-crisis of religion while I was there and started going to church three nights a week. I asked all the questions I needed to ask and then I quit Christianity. I haven't been to a church service since around 1999. I became an atheist later.

3. My favorite food is cheese. I love almost all kinds of cheese and I am always trying new cheeses. If there is wine involved, my happiness knows no bounds.

4. I see hundreds of movies a year but I almost never watch a movie more than once. There are only a few exceptions--I have seen Network a million times, and I rewatch Maurice and The Hours and Howards End every once in a while.

5. I don't eat candy that isn't dark chocolate. Not because I am anorexic or anything; I just am not that into it.

6. I spend lots of time alone--an incredible amount, in fact. And I have gotten used to doing things in public by myself: going to the movies, eating dinner, seeing theatre.

7. I will never leave a movie in the middle of it, but if a piece of theatre is bad I race out of there at intermission as fast as I can. There is almost nothing worse than bad theatre.

8. I have a minor obsession with diacritical marks. I feel like people should use them when they write and I wince when I see words like mañana and résumé or names like Zoë and Dalí spelled without them.

9. Sometimes I wish I were still working as an accountant so that I had a steady income. Being a student scares me a lot. I don't like being unemployed.

10. I am a huge nerd when it comes to J.R.R. Tolkien, and I know all kinds of ridiculous trivia about his work, but I judge people who love Star Trek.

11. I think of myself as a very mean person, but I spend a lot of time trying to be nice to people so that my meanness doesn't make other people sad.

12. I really hate getting my hair cut. I have a complex about it or something.

13. I am a Pisces. This means that I never know what I want to do for my birthday. What I really want is for my friends to plan my birthday without me. And I want it to be perfect. But I don't want them to ask me about it.

14. I was in a theatre company once, but I found it to be really difficult and mildly depressing. Artists sometimes have wild, exciting dreams, but often no desire to make them reality.

15. I frequently convince people that I'm Jewish. I am not sure why.

16. I don't believe in "the self" or "the soul." I think the idea is outdated. I only believe in actions.

17. I really wanted to be a parent when I was about 23 years old. I became obsessed with babies. I would cry when I saw them and all kinds of dramatics like that. Now I am almost 28 and while I like my newborn nephew, I want nothing to do with parenting. If I had been straight I would probably have a kid by now and my life would be completely different. [Oct 2010 update: I am currently pushing 30. Still no desire for children.]

18. I don't really listen to "good" music. I listen to classical music and sometimes bands come into my life, but I don't have emotional connections to bands or things like that. Everyone else I know seems to really love music, but I guess it isn't my thing.

19. When people mention plays or other books, I generally behave as though I've read them. I have read more than most people I know my age, but I have shame about not having read more.

20. I am proud of all of my good friends. I think that they are the most interesting, talented people. I love having parties with them because just listening to them talk is fun for me.

21. This is news to no one, but I am obsessed with the Academy Awards. This is how obsessed: I have seen 398 of the 462 films ever nominated for Best Picture (85%) and 368 of the 401 movies (92%) nominated for Best Director. And yes I am keeping track of the statistics. [Oct 2010 update: For BP, 412 of 478 (86%). For BD, 374 of 406 (92%). Yes, I am still keeping track.]

22. I never dated a white guy until I moved to Florida. Since I've been here there have been three. Weird.

23. I hardly ever have a boyfriend, but I usually have a crush on someone or have machinations about someone. Right now I have no crush and no machinations. It is weird, but okay.

24. I read two magazines regularly: Vanity Fair and the Gay and Lesbian Review. I used to read Out, but it is too heteronormative and boring for me now that I am a radicalized opinionated queer scholar. ;-)

25. I interpret dreams. And I am kinda good at it.

19 October 2010

Does the Pope Wear a Dress?

A joke for today from George Chauncey's delightful book Gay New York, which I will be discussing briefly today in my Sexuality & Representation class:

This anecdote comes after a discussion of the uses of the words gay, queer, and fairy to describe homosexually active men:

Twenty years [after 1939], SLA agents casually used gay to mean homosexual, as did the gay men they were investigating. One agent testified in 1960 that he had simply asked a man at a suspected bar whether he was "straight or gay."

"I am as gay as the Pope" came the knowing reply.
("Which Pope?" asked the startled investigator.
"Any Pope," he was assured.)

15 October 2010

Andrew Garfield

Currently risking a slight overexposure, Mr. Garfield has recently played significant roles in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (don't see it), and Boy A (see it!), and is currently doing excellent work in both The Social Network and (I've heard) in the film version of Never Let Me Go. He will also shortly be filling Tobey Maguire's shoes as the new Spider-Man, a development in which I have no interest whatsoever.

I'm a fan.

14 October 2010

Decadence & Pleasure

I am still reading my Parisian avant-garde list. I did not read these books in order (not sure if this is good or bad) and so I am sort of jumping back and forth between Symbolism, Surrealism, and Dada. There are only two novels on my list, and I am, quite frankly, not used to reading novels, but as it turns out they read amazingly quickly--reading a novel is nothing like reading, say, Joe Roach's Cities of the Dead.

The novel I just finished is called À Rebours (Against Nature), and it is a very influential novel. Its author, J.-K. Huysmans, was a Naturalist, but À Rebours is an incredibly anti-naturalist text. What is fabulous about this book is that it really is about almost nothing, by which I mean that nothing really happens in this book. If À Rebours is about anything it is about the tastes and pleasures of the novel's main character, who is named des Esseintes, a wealthy man who tires of Parisian urbanity and moves to the suburbs where he lives completely alone. There are entire chapters in À Rebours that simply detail why des Esseintes likes this gem instead of that gem, pages and pages discussing colors, a chapter on the decoration of his bedroom, a chapter on flowers, all of which resemble carcasses or meat of some kind. I found the book, in other words, completely and totally absorbing.

À Rebours is not devoid of politics. It also includes its share of philosophy, and several passages on what des Esseintes (Huysmans himself?) believes the function of art to be. The book flows so naturally, though, that even his strict (and arbitrary) opinions fit beautifully within the book's whole. I want to share a few of these delightful musings.

Here, des Esseintes muses about poverty, prophylaxis, and the lower classes; (des Esseintes is exceedingly wealthy):
The Law deems it completely legitimate to defraud the reproductive process – this is a recognised and acknowledged fact; there's scarcely a home, however rich it be, that doesn't nightly consign its offspring to the laundry or that doesn't use artificial devices, which are freely sold and which it wouldn't occur to anyone to condemn. And yet if these precautions or subterfuges prove insufficient, if the fraud misfires and, in order to remedy matters, one has recourse to more efficacious measures, ah! then there aren't enough prisons, enough police cells or enough penitentiaries to hold those who'd be condemned – and in all good faith moreover – by individuals who, in the conjugal bed the night before, had tried every trick in the book so as not to beget brats of their own. / The fraud itself was not therefore a crime, but trying to make good the failure of it was.
There is a good deal more that is of interest in the book. Des Esseintes discusses Catholic literature, Sadism, a tortoise whose shell he has inlaid in gold (totally hilarious), and how he hates going to concerts:
secular music is a promiscuous art because you don't read it at home, alone, like you do a book; in order to enjoy it he would have had to mix with that swarm of inveterate theatre-goers who besiege the Cirque d'Hiver, where, under the slanting beam of a spotlight sun, in an atmosphere as hot and steamy as a washroom, you can just about make out a man with the build of a carpenter beating the air as if whisking mayonnaise and butchering disjointed excerpts from Wagner, to the immense delight of an ignorant crowd.
It is not all pontificating, though (most of it is, to be honest). The last selection I will share is a description of a heat wave that oppresses des Esseintes late in the book:
The season advanced and the weather became unsettled; everything was mixed up this year; after the squalls and the fogs, white hot skies like sheets of metal appeared over the horizon. In the space of two days, without any transition, the damp cold of the mists and the streaming rain gave way to a torrid heat, an appallingly sultry atmosphere. As though stirred by furious pokers the sun opened like the mouth of a baker's oven, darting out an almost white light that burned the eyes; a fiery dust rose from the charred roads, grilling the dry trees and roasting the yellowed grass; the reflections from whitewashed walls, the light blazing on zinc roofs and on glass windows was blinding; a heat like that of a foundry being fired hung oppressively over des Esseintes' house.
I love this description! Now here is weather with character. This is the pleasure of Huysmans' prose. He describes things completely, almost in the manner of the cubists (they would come later).

At any rate, À Rebours is obviously not for everyone. I can imagine many being very bored by Huysmans' commitment to des Esseintes' inner monologue, by this cataloging of tastes, but I found the entire thing fascinating.

07 October 2010

Francis Picabia and Dada

The most recent text I have been reading is a collection of Francis Picabia's poetry and prose from his pre-Dada period through to the end of his life. It is called I Am a Beautiful Monster and it the most Dada of anything Dada I've ever read.

I find Picabia completely totally delightful for pretty much all of the years leading up to his Dada phase and I find him one of the most exciting, ridiculous, fabulous writers I've ever read for the duration of his time spent with Paris Dada. His critiques of Dada are also interesting -- at least to me -- but I lost interest in Picabia after the last of these.

Still, some of this stuff is just extraordinary!

The following segments are taken from a long poem that is mostly nonsense called Poésie Ron-ron.

I am excerpting just my favorite parts:
one can imagine he amused Paris
he was a member of every circle
and the biggest fusspot
was in love with him
what an example for the children
the cholera of times past
was more beautiful than war
the names of all great men
piece of rag at street corners
fed on digestive tablets

And these are from Pensées sans Language:
on a stone
where a pale and delicate
acacia swims
a cubist declared to me
that I was crazy
what charming people these artists are
attached to the stretchers of art
I haven't a single penny to buy a work of art
like the virginity of men
that of women is a joke
virgins are like military incompetence
dramatic turn of events for bourgeois morality
I see only cowardly morals
there you have it monsieur madame
this century has ravishing charm
reforms become useless
one has children when one wants
a simple question of hygiene
to not have them
science is antiseptic
love isn't so on the pillow
humbly admit that you are not unaware of places of ill repute
at polygamous moments
what happiness
to have infallible intuition
and to know how to behave
like one of Shakespeare's
great ladies
and the moon impatiently mounts the sky
if you know what I mean

The following is an open letter to the poet Rachilde, whose real name was Marguerite Eymery, but who, when beginning her career in Paris, passed out cards reading "Rachilde: homme des lettres" (which explains the "woman of letters" quip below). Rachilde dressed in men's clothing when she was young and wrote scandalous and very sexy novels and plays, but when she became older she became much more conservative and nationalist. Picabia, who loathed nationalism, wrote the following open letter to Rachilde in a Dada review called Cannibale:
To Madame Rachilde
Woman of letters and good patriot
You've presented yourself on your own, with your lonely French nationality. Congratulations. As for me, I am of several nationalities and Dada is like myself.
I was born in Paris, of a Cuban, Spanish, French, Italian, and American family, and what is most astonishing is that I have the very clear impression of being all these nationalities at once!
This is no doubt a form of dementia praecox; I prefer, however, this form to the one that affected William II, who considered himself to be the only representative of the only Germany.
William II and his friends were good patriots. Just like you, Madame...
Yours sincerely.

There is a wealth of delightful writing in this collection. This guy was a true character of the modern era. Imagine a man consistently signing his poems, Francis Picabia, the Funny Guy (which he did) or Francis Picabia, the Failure (which he also did, and frequently).

01 October 2010

White America

If you haven't seen the cover of the Village Voice and the BRILLIANT article "White America Has Lost Its Mind," you MUST check it out. It is a phenomenal dissection of the racism that is currently permeating USAmerican political rhetoric.

I loved this piece so much that I personally emailed its author to tell him how much I appreciated his work.

Ms. Perez.

So, I realize that I've been putting a lot of YouTube clips up here, but... well, I don't have time, really, to be blogging and as it turns out, there's good stuff on YouTube that I think everyone should be checking out.

As it happens, gay marriage and I are not sweet sweet besties. I am, as they say, ambivalent. BUT people who want to get married (and this should be obvious) should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want to do.

Any opinion that is anti-gay marriage is fundamentally unsupportable. It is fine for queer people to sort of wish that gay people wouldn't want to support a system that is interested in legitimizing some relationships in exchange for deligitimizing others. Fine. But, um, if the law -- and I am not speaking about so-called rights, here, I am talking about the law -- allows some people to do something, it ought to allow all people to do that.

Also, I have always loved Rosie Perez, and this video is about her, so:

Love her.