Archive for Star Wars

Why George Lucas Has No Penis

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2015 by dcairns


As a coda to Seventies Sci-Fi Week-and-a-Half, here’s a piece I wrote ages ago and then didn’t post because it was too mean, and its subject is a rich and powerful man. On re-reading it, I decided it’s not that mean and its subject isn’t really its subject — it’s a kind of parody of the style of Professor Joseph Slade, whose article “Bernard Natan, France’s Legendary Pornographer” cast him as chief villain in NATAN, the documentary Paul Duane and I collaborated on (which also features crooked businessmen and Nazis, so Slade had to work hard to attain the top spot). The game is “psychoanalyse a moviemaker based on his work” — inferring all sorts of offensive assumptions on slender textual evidence. So I hope Mr. Lucas will see the funny side and not sic the assassination wing of Industrial Light and Magic on my ass.



Exhibit A.

I don’t want you to misconstrue from the title of the post, or any of the many bad things I say in it, that this is an anti-Lucas screed. It’s more about examining George‘s immortal creation, the original STAR WARS, to see how it is in fact a coded cri-de-coeur from a man who wants to be virile and thrusting, to satisfy women, to have a penis, and yet cannot do any of these things, because he doesn’t have a penis.

Exhibit B: the light sabre. When Mel Brooks spoofed this peculiar weapon in SPACEBALLS (a title calculated to appeal to the untesticled Lucas), it wasn’t particularly funny, perhaps because the sight of Bill Pullman miming the act of clutching a long, luminous erection somehow doesn’t inspire hilarity, only a queasy urge to withdraw from the vicinity as soon as possible. But also because the joke is too obvious — and I don’t mean in the sense that all dick jokes are, by definition, obvious, I mean that the light sabre is already a naked phallic symbol impossible to parody. In terms of physics, it makes no sense — it’s apparently made of light, yet the beam comes to a dead halt just when you need it to, and it’s solid. And from the way they swing them around, it looks like it has a little weight too. What else is solid, comes to a dead halt when you need it to, and has a little weight? Of course: a penis.


Exhibit C: Darth Vader. Authors automatically project onto their villains their own undesirable qualities. In Peter Pan, Captain Hook is frequently described as “impotent” by J.M. Barrie, and the pirate’s missing limb is a clear metaphor for his sexual deficiency. Vader on the one hand, like everybody else in the STAR WARS universe, represents Lucas‘ craving for an aura of powerful masculinity: he is large and imposing, he has a light sabre, he has a black man’s voice like Barry White, and his heavy breathing suggests a state of permanent physical arousal. But it also suggests acute asthma, and it is here that Darth’s status as a disabled war veteran reveals Lucas‘ secret anxiety about his masculinity.

His name is a thinly-veiled reconstruction of the words “death invader” and he is an intrusion of the thanatic, anti-life principle into the living world. As a result, Vader is not sexually active, and when faced with a desirable woman, in his power, Vader chooses to attack her with a surrogate robot, armed only with a tiny needle. This reveals Lucas‘ subconscious anxiety that his tiny penis, if he has one, which he definitely doesn’t, is too small.

(Some may suggest that Vader feels no sexual desire for Princess Leia because she’s his daughter, but in fact this is not so. She’s not his daughter in the first film because Lucas had not yet written the other films at the time he made it. He hadn’t even started pretending that he had written the other five — or is it eight? — films.)

Exhibit D: R2-D2. Although the long, shiny C3-PO and the short, buff R2, like many comic double acts, represent a kind of analog of the human penis and scrotum, it is in R2’s electronic interface shaft that we see again Lucas‘ longing for a penis he can call his own. A kind of plug, jack, or cable (all words with sexual significance), R2’s mechanical member allows him to sexually violate other machines, including even the all-powerful Death Star. Though small and inarticulate, like Lucas, R2 possesses the power, unlike Lucas, to make things happen with his ding-a-ling. In one famous scene, he sticks it in the Death Star and forces her destructive, vagina dentata gnashers to release the trapped heroes who have unwisely ventured down the garbage disposal shaft which represents the Death Star’s vulva.


Exhibit E: the climax. At the climax of the film Lucas made which he called STAR WARS, not A NEW HOPE, we get a flurry of erotic symbolism so insistent as to be almost dizzying. The death star attempts to assume the phallic role by planning to shoot a laser cannonade at Yavin, a green, Gaia-like world representing the life principle. To prevent this, a whole fleet of phallic spacecraft are launched, each with its own X-rating in the form of criss-cross wings replacing the testicles.

The goal of these craft is to turn the Death Star into a big space vagina and penetrate it, thus “fucking it up.” They do this first by diving into a groove on the satellite’s surface, then firing a so-called “proton torpedo” into its “cooling shaft”. All while R2 sits directly behind Luke, stimulating his prostate with that computerized dildo attachment of his.

I have said that this is a mechanized version of sexual intercourse, but what it more closely resembles is the act of fertilisation. The Death Star is an egg and the X-wing fighters are sperm, swimming together in a race to penetrate the ovum. The fact that in this case, the goal achieved leads to a big explosion and thousands of deaths probably reflects Lucas‘ neurotic anxieties, but on the other hand, the destruction of the death star saves Yavin, and so billions of lives on the fecund world are saved.

Lucas‘ cast of characters are mostly sexually dysfunctional or incapable of maintaining an erection. Ben Kenobi is an elderly Englishman, as is the Grand Moff Tarkin. Luke Skywalker delivers his first line of dialogue in a shrill, pansified falsetto. C3-PO and Chewbacca have noapparent generative organs of any kind, and Princess Leia is a woman.

In Lucas‘s predominantly metallic, sterile universe, the only truly virile human is Han Solo, who doesn’t need to surround himself with phallic symbols.

His blaster is of no more than standard size, his space-ship looks more like a cake than anything else, and he is so secure in his masculinity that he travels around with a shaggy beast, just like Clint Eastwood in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE. Though his name strongly implies the act of masturbation, Han Solo is obviously a sexual conquistador of awesome dexterity. Chewbacca, Han’s “co-pilot” (read: fuck-buddy) is a savage male artifact in his own right, but his name (chewing tobacco) signifies his true role, as a lovable Walter Brennan sidekick with whom Han can, if he wishes, enjoy vigorous bouts of recreational sex.


Just imagine him flanked by two Ewoks.

The top ten sexual innuendos of STAR WARS, via Strange Places.

1. “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”
2. “Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough!”
3. “Look at the size of that thing!”
4. “Sorry about the mess…”
5. “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.”
6. “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
7. “You’ve got something jammed in here real good.”
8. “Put that thing away before you get us all killed!”
9. “Luke, at that speed do you think you’ll be able to pull out in time?”
10. “Get in there you big furry oaf, I don’t care *what* you smell!”

Cold Readings

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2014 by dcairns


Another thing about THE HEIRESS — Montgomery Clift’s first lines, spoken before we see him, are delivered in a shockingly blue-collar fifties New York tone. Very mookish. particularly the words, “How ya do, Miss Sloper?” I wondered why. It could be that director William Wyler, being of Alsatian origins (in the sense of being from Alsace, not a son-of-a-bitch) wasn’t sensitive enough to nuances of accent and let the line slip by. But it may be that he thought, Clift is obviously going to stick out next to Olivia and Ralph and Miriam, better let the audience get over their discomfort as soon as possible — shock them into accepting it. Let’s make sure they notice it on Line 1, so they’re not wondering all through the scene, Is there something funny about his delivery? And his hair?


(Incidentally, this is the first time I saw the film and read Monty’s character as a fortune-hunter from the off, which he clearly is. On previous viewings, partly because I like Monty and partly because I’m dumb as Olivia, I always found him quite sincere — that uncertain smile! [Which really signals: Do you believe me so far?] Of course, I knew after the first time that he was after her loot, but I never could read it that way. This time at last I came to my senses, the scales fell from my eyes — he feeds her a line about always feeling he could say the right thing when he’s alone in his room, but in public the words desert him — which they clearly DON’T. It’s a classic fake psychic’s cold reading, a line that everyone can relate to and say is true of them, and it’s not even that cold because he’s had a chance to observe her and see how tongue-tied she is. Also, though, I do think Monty likes her a little, or at any rate doesn’t find her as unbearable as the guy who’s forced to dance with her earlier, whose eyes roll clean up into his head as if pumped full of helium after a few minutes of her conversation.)

The other great ludicrous first speech is Mark Hammill’s famous “But I was going into Tosche station to pick up some power converters,” in STAR WARS. Knowing the importance of setting up your “Hero With a Thousand Faces” right away, George Lucas worked hard to establish Luke Skywalker as a hysterical, adenoidal homosexual caricature with his very first line. The dialogue itself was not sufficiently evocative of these qualities, but dialogue was never Lucas’s strong suit. Finally, the correct effect was achieved by getting Hammill to loop the line while jumping blindfolded off a high diving board, his arms making little circular flailing movements as he plummeted helplessly towards the unheated water below. After the third take, it was perfect.

The Heiress [DVD]
The Heiress (Universal Cinema Classics)

Decisions, decisions

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2013 by dcairns


“Directing a film,” said Buck Henry, “is like being pecked to death by ducks.” What he meant, if I dare parse the Great Man’s thought processes, is that the film director is beset from pre-dawn to magic hour and beyond with QUESTIONS, brought by actors, crew, executives (sometimes these are in the form of ORDERS, but directors prefer to see them as questions). What these questioners want from the director is DECISIONS. Film-making is decision-making. It’s more important to make a decision of some kind than it is to make a correct decision, which explains several entire careers.

Here are some decisions that could have gone another way.

1) Peter Mayhew, the tall hospital porter, was not originally cast as Chewbacca in STAR WARS. Kenny Baker was the first actor to play the part, because producer Gary Kurtz wanted to save money on fur. But in rehearsals,the diminutive Baker struggled to project the correct air of ursine authority. It didn’t seem likely that this four foot teddy bear could rip anybody’s arms out of their sockets. Even another teddy bear’s. It was too late to recruit fresh actors, so Lucas searched his cast for another suitable player, and immediately found the perfect man: Alec Guinness. But Guinness refused to play a role which would render him completely unrecognizable (“This frigging beard is bad enough,”) and replace all his dialogue with gargling grunts, so finally Mayhew got the role. He’d been finding the R2-D2 costume rather cramped anyway.

2) THE THIRD MAN was originally planned to take place on a sinking ship. “I was aiming for something akin to what Ronnie Neame eventually did with THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE,” said Carol Reed. “It was the perfect excuse for all those tilted camera angles.” When producer Alexander Korda insisted the film take place in Vienna, which is inland, to take advantage of some shares he had bought in a ferris wheel, Reed was initially despondent. But, by taking the metaphorical view that post-war Europe was itself a kind of sinking ship, he adapted his existing storyboard to the new locations without changing anything except metal walls for stone. He eventually admitted the change had been a positive one, and Cotten and Welles’ famous scene played better in the Volksprater than it would have in a dumb-waiter.

3) Much has been written about the colossal talent search to cast Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, but it is less generally known that an almost equally huge hunt was staged to cast the part of Mammy. Everyone had agreed that Hattie McDaniel was the only actress who could play the role, but McDaniel had just signed with RKO to play a crime-fighting cook in a series of B-pictures. Having failed to find another performer with McDaniel’s subtlety of expression, the unit turned to production designer William Cameron Menzies to solve their problem. Menzies drew up blueprints for a mechanical mammy. “I was aiming for something a little like what Rob Bottin would make in TOTAL RECALL,” said Menzies, implausibly referencing a film made thirty-three years after his death. “You know, the fat lady costume that Arnie Schwartzenegger wears to get through customs?”

“I was going to put little Billy Barty in a mechanical Mammy. The long skirts would eliminate the need for legs: he would cycle away in there and thus operate a concealed tricycle. There would be a series of buttons he could push to make the eyes roll. We had a problem with the arms: Billy, being used to short arms, would wave them about too much, which was potentially dangerous. One time, Thomas Mitchell nearly lost an eye. Finally, we had the arms worked on wires by puppeteers.”

In the end, film history records that McDaniels’ culinary detective series was mysteriously cancelled, leaving her free to play Mammy after all. But there are persistent rumours that Menzies’ racially stereotyped robot appears in some shots. It has even been suggested than McDaniel won the Oscar for a role actually played by a dwarf-propelled replicant. The relevant pages of the David O. Selznick papers have been sealed by court order until 2039.


4) When Roman Polanski was preparing REPULSION, he very much wanted to get Catherine Deneuve for the role of Carol, the Belgian manicurist who goes mad. So he included the strange detail of the soft walls, knowing well that she was currently living in a house made of silly putty. Women love rearranging the furniture, don’t they? (I’m generalizing, of course — but all women do this.) Deneuve had worked it out so she could actually tear down entire walls and rebuild them in fresh, blobby shapes. It used to drive David Bailey mad.


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