Archive for Twilight

Breathing Life Into A Turd.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2015 by dcairns

Fiona went to see FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Here is her report, which contains language. From the outset.

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As I staggered, stupefied, out of a screening of Fifty Shades Of Grey, accompanied by the ‘monstrous regiment of women’ a friend of mine had organized into this group activity , which I’d convinced myself was an anthropological experiment, the slightly confused words falling from my lips were, “Dakota Johnson really breathed life into that turd.” Pausing to think about that statement, I realized I was mixing my metaphors like crazy, except only the first part of the sentence was a metaphor and the second part was…a word. A strange coincidence, bearing in mind the fact that EL Wisty James can barely construct a sentence at the best of times. And, is breathing life into a turd something you really want to achieve? According to attendance figures and box office for this fecal behemoth lumbering through the world’s multiplexes, it’s well worth it, but this reanimated jobby is very different from South Park‘s happy little bowl-lurker, Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo.

Mrhankey

Mr. Hankey in his red room of pain

I’m usually cheered to see Mr Hankey, with his toothsome smile, inviting wave and cry of “Hi-Di-Ho!” This example of human waste, excreted from the mind of EL James/Erica Mitchell on to a Blackberry, and hence, into the homes of most people around the world, instead fills me with a creeping dread much like that experienced by characters in an HP Lovecraft story.

Writing erotic fiction. A guide.

“But what of the film adaptation you started talking about at the beginning of the opening paragraph?” I hear you mewl. Well, it’s glossy. Very glossy. Many years ago I used to regularly purchase a magazine called, hilariously, Living etc, centering on interior design. That’s exactly what this film is like, with the ‘etc’ meaning, watered down, misunderstood, vanilla BDSM for people who don’t read books. I’d like to amend John Waters’ advice about not fucking people who don’t read books. Don’t fuck people who read EL James. I’m deadly serious here, because her message is not sexy, it’s toxic. Back to the film.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs this tosh extremely well, with a self-awareness of its inherent ridiculousness that it doesn’t deserve. She regularly dips a toe into parody with a tv commercial style of shooting and grabs the comedic moments to her bosom. And there ARE deliberately funny moments. Notably the contract negotiation scene, (props to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for the sumptuous look of the whole thing) but even that can’t be saved from Mitchell’s tiresome insistence on her dreadful dialogue being included as much as possible. When Ana expresses an interest in winding up the meeting, Christian tells her that her body is saying something different. “There is a blush on your cheek.” But how can he tell when everything’s orange?

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Taylor-Johnson apparently wanted to approach this as a dark fairy tale, while Mitchell saw it as an epic bonk-buster. Taylor-Johnson and adaptor Kelly Marcel’s sensibility creeps in with the inclusion of a scene with a hung over Ana waking up at Christian’s place with a painkiller, a glass of water, and a note that reads. ‘Eat Me. Drink Me.’ I don’t believe Mitchell has the imagination to write that, so I’m assuming it’s down to Marcel. Not exactly subtle, but it’s there. (Correct me if I’m wrong and it is in the book, but I’d bet my eye teeth it isn’t.) They try to take the curse off it in other areas too. “Laters baby,” has been turned into a recurring joke, a phrase first uttered by Christian’s brother, which he then uses ironically. There is no Inner Goddess and there are no “Holy craps!” although there is a breathy “Holy shit,” as Ana exits Christian’s office building in a downpour, holding her face up into the rain, bowled over by his money charisma. Why do we keep coming back to excrement? Don’t answer that.

fifty-shades-grey

To paraphrase Sarah Miles in White Mischief, “Not another fucking beautifully composed and lit shot.”

The screening itself had the odd atmosphere of a Hen Night. And beforehand I’d mused that this film might be a first. A commercial piece of cinema about sexuality, written by women, directed by a woman and appealing to a core audience of women. I was assured by the other attendees that there were plenty of people lapping this stuff up, talking excitedly amongst themselves and generally having a great time. We weren’t among them. When Dornan does his tedious, sad, nude piano playing schtick I muttered, “For god’s sake. He’s like The Phantom Of The fucking Opera without the organ.”

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Jamie Dornan

(Thanks to Kim for pointing out this connection.)

He really is organless, because although wide-eyed, lip-biting ingenue Dakota Johnson gets everything out,  Jamie Dornan is restricted to a naked, cigarette-burned chest and buttocks.  Now, it’s not like I want the screen to be awash with cocks (Or do I? A question for another day) but I would like some parity. At one point there’s an utterly bizarre flash frame of ‘someone’s’ pubic area (not Dornan’s, because he signed a ‘no complete nudity’ clause) reminding me of the insert of a nob (“Ooh err!”) in Fight Club.

Fight-Club-Hidden-Frames1

And so to the actors. Dakota Johnson has been on the receiving end of universal praise for her expressive naturalness and I’m in agreement. She brings believability to the unbelievable. Not conventionally beautiful, she has adorable little bags under her eyes, a slightly wonky nose and a sensual mouth. The camera loves her. The camera’s a bit unsure about Jamie Dornan but it might give him a call next weekend if it doesn’t have anything on.  Now, I’m aware that Dornan is the Psycho Du Jour due to The Fall, but not having seen that, or indeed, anything he’s been in, I was completely bemused by his flat, lifeless performance. To be fair, the script is mainly atrocious. Who is Christian Grey? According to this film he’s a super-rich fetus in a suit with a flying license and a predilection for kinky sex. Not much to base a performance on. BUT, and now we get to the important stuff. He has a ‘back story’, it’s what’s made him into the cypher he is today, and it’s not pretty. “I’m fifty shades of fucked up.” he complains. But do you really have to be fucked up to be into BDSM? The truth is you don’t. It’s a desire, probably hard wired into the brain and reinforced by environment, and when practiced by consenting adults, is not a mental illness to be cured by having a ‘normal’ romantic relationship, and the insinuation by Mitchell that it is, is downright insulting. In fact everything she does is insulting. Her utter contempt for her readership. Her congratulatory self-aggrandizement and her complete absence of self-awareness. No wonder Taylor-Johnson doesn’t want to work with her again. The news yesterday that she will be adapting her own work for the sequels must have the execs at Universal and Focus shitting their little panties, because she can’t write a sentence let alone a screenplay and she’s never had an original thought in her life.

Fifty Shades Of Grey started life as Twilight fan fiction, but there’s an even earlier film it draws upon heavily, Steven Shainberg’s Secretary (2002), based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill and adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson.

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The original Mr Grey

Secretary is also the story of a BDSM relationship but unlike Fifty Shades, our female protagonist, Lee, genuinely ENJOYS the games she plays with Mr Grey/Spader, while Ana seems to put up with Christian’s ‘singular tastes’ in order to keep her man. When she reaches her limit, she storms out of his house in tears. This should be the end of the story, but there are a further two books/films in which she partially ‘cures’ him and they live happily ever after in a socially sanctioned marriage with children. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude in which I imagine Mitchell drowning in a vat of Nutella, her favorite snack. Now Lee and Mr Grey also get married, but the wonderfully unconventional coda (SPOILER ALERT) finds her tied to a tree in her wedding dress being rogered senseless by Grey and loving every second of it! This is true consent. Ana doesn’t consent to Christian selling her car behind her back or having him stalk her, turning up at places and events he hasn’t been invited to. This is obsessive nonsense. In fact it’s abuse. Mitchell, even when she knew her witterings were turning into a money-making concern, wasn’t the least bit interested in properly researching the BDSM lifestyle. What she peddles is Harlequin Blaze like romantic fiction with rough sex, pop psychology and a writing style that makes Dan Brown look like Dostoyevsky. These are quite simply the worst books ever published, in any medium, aside from possibly, the Cum For Bigfoot series, (Yes. They’re exactly what they sound like) which also makes a bloody fortune, but film studios didn’t engage in a bidding war for them. She’s the kind of woman who makes me ashamed to be female. I’m all for women making successful careers. I have a lot of respect for Taylor-Johnson. She has talent and she’s worked for her now elevated position, all while navigating extreme illness and personal crises. Mitchell on the other hand, wrote a load of old rubbish on her phone on the underground on her way to and from work and has created an empire. An empire of ‘holy crap’.

And now, something for the ladies.

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Darkness Lite

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology, Painting, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2012 by dcairns

David Wingrove, being a big fan of the TV Dark Shadows, and a fan of Tim Burton (he even liked ALICE IN WONDERLAND, gah!), went to see Burton’s DARK SHADOWS with an open mind — and found it inspired a number of intriguing observations, which he has assembled into the following piece (writing as David Melville) —

Darkness Lite

Afternoons in my childhood were a strange and dangerous world. School over, my parents still at work and my grandmother busy in the kitchen boiling dinner, I would sneak into the living room and pull the curtains shut against the light. Creeping on tiptoe towards the TV – remotes (in our house, at least) were not yet invented – I would turn the switch softly to ON. Thrill to the wail of a theremin; a black-and-white seascape of waves crashing onto rocks. Then the magic words would fill the screen: DARK SHADOWS.

For the next half-hour or so, I was transported. Away from school and suburbia, and into a hidden world of dreams. Girls in filmy white night-gowns wandered alone through graveyards, bathed in moonlight and swathed in mists of dry ice. Tall and dark and lethally handsome men would rise, abruptly, out of coffins. Loom over the girls, resplendent in their dark capes, and sink their teeth – lovingly and ever so gently – into their soft, pale throats. Portraits of long-dead ladies would shiver and come to life. Drift about in unlit corridors, transparent ghosts of crinoline and bone. Wolves would wail and howl. Lurking always, conveniently, just off camera. It was, in a word, paradise.

I took care, on those far-off haunted afternoons, to keep the sound turned low – almost silent. My middle-class Canadian family was vigilant against anything ‘unsuitable’ or, worse, ‘unwholesome’ and Dark Shadows was the one show I was flatly forbidden to watch. My mother was convinced – with good reason, I suppose – that it would scare me and give me nightmares. I was a sensitive and impressionable child, frightened of many things. School, with its uniform of grey shorts, ugly red blazer and matching cap. Science and arithmetic, both totally beyond me, as was – horror of horrors! – sport. Teachers with gunmetal eyes and barking voices. Bicycles, on which I could never balance and always fell off.  Assembly, where we sang ‘God Save the Queen’ and my throat seized up with fear so I could barely speak.

Yes, life at six years of age was full of terrors. But Dark Shadows with its setting, Collinwood Manor, was the least frightening and most beautiful place I had ever seen. The one world, perhaps, where I truly felt I belonged. Clearly, a whole generation of misfit kids felt the same way. The original soap opera, created by Dan Curtis, ran every weekday from 1966 to 1971 and spawned two big-screen movies – House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971) – neither of which I have ever seen. Unsuccessfully revived as a TV series in the 90s, it has now become a mega-budget screen epic directed by Goth maestro Tim Burton.

By any regular cinematic standard, this is fantastically good news. Like any other Tim Burton extravaganza (leaving aside the perplexing Big Fish) the 2012 Dark Shadows is slick, smooth and uniquely compulsive entertainment. Johnny Depp, alluring in black eyeliner as vampire Barnabas Collins, adds one more to his list of camp Gothic grotesques. Michelle Pfeiffer, in full-on diva mode as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, wears her eye-poppingly hideous 70s outfits with commendable aplomb. Eva Green is more expressive, and Helena Bonham Carter less annoying, than past experience gives us any right to hope. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (whose other recent film is Alexander Sokurov’s Faust) has images inspired by – indeed, worthy of – such Romantic painters as Henry Fuseli and Caspar David Friedrich. The visuals, as always in a Burton movie, are several quantum leaps ahead of the script.

Had I not made the mistake – forty-odd years ago, I admit, at an age when I was far too young to know better – of watching and loving the original Dark Shadows with such passion, I might well be wholly thrilled with the Burton remake. Yet somehow, there was something not quite right. So wrong, in fact, that I went on Amazon and ordered the newly reissued Dark Shadows box set. (Don’t worry, not the whole series – just three discs and twenty episodes, which introduce the lead vampire, Barnabas Collins.)  This was something I felt obscurely afraid to do. Revisiting the past could only expose my childhood dream as the cheap, shoddy mirage that it undoubtedly was. Like a fairground Haunted House with the lights on. Black paint peeling, and sawdust and chewing gum piled up in the corners.

It took me one episode – well, perhaps two – to see where and how Tim Burton had slipped up. The original Barnabas Collins (played by the craggy-faced Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, whose one film of note is Oliver Stone’s 1974 debut Seizure) is a ruthless bisexual seducer who preys, both physically and psychologically, on other main characters. Rising out of his coffin, he latches onto the resident beefcake Willie Loomis (John Karlen, later the hero in Harry Kümel’s 1970 Daughters of Darkness) and revives by draining his bodily fluids. Willie is the protégé of a camp older gentleman named Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick, whose name is the author of Auntie Mame, only backwards). Jason is blackmailing Elizabeth (played by film noir legend Joan Bennett) for the murder of her husband – who may also have been (we can’t help but wonder) his lover. He and Barnabas swiftly form a gay triangle around Willie. Everything hinges on who gets to suck what from whom.

After resuscitating himself with the blood of a man, Barnabas turns his attentions to a nubile young woman (Kathryn Leigh Scott, as local waitress Maggie Evans) but keeps Willie on as his factotum and blood bank. (This is the same pattern – Dark Shadows was nothing if not derivative – as Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s original novel, feasting initially on the hero, Jonathan Harker and only later on Mina, his wife.) Willie seems, at once, protective and obscurely jealous of his female rival. His relationship with Barnabas grows ever more twisted. Towards the end of the episodes I saw, Barnabas gives him a sadomasochistic thrashing with a huge carved metal walking stick – an heirloom the vampire proudly shows off to Maggie, and which she greatly admires.

The implicit queerness of the original Dark Shadows was, of course, never spelled out in the script. But it is expunged, ruthlessly and systematically, from the 2012 remake. The cutesy Barnabas Collins played by Johnny Depp seems to feed exclusively on extras. At no point does he pose a threat to the Collins family, or to any of the other major characters. (His killing of Dr Julia Hoffmann, the psychiatrist played by Helena Bonham Carter, is done purely in self-defence.) The film’s Willie is no sexy young stud, but a shambling grotesque out of The Addams Family. His older male protector is, of course, nowhere in sight. A menage so relentlessly heterosexual, it is more Little House on the Prairie than Collinwood Manor.

In de-gaying and de-fanging Dark Shadows, Burton has made his vampire only slightly less innocuous than Robert Pattinson in the Twilight saga. Barnabas, as played by Johnny Depp, embodies not good old-fashioned Eros and Thanatos – the way a vampire should – but squeaky-clean 21st century Family Values. “The greatest wealth of all is family,” Depp intones as he revives the Collins fortune and saves his mortal relatives from the brink of ruin. Legions of Born Again Republicans across America would doubtless agree. Tim Burton, who was hailed two decades ago as the Great Dark Hope of Hollywood, is now looking more and more like a Gothic Steven Spielberg. Yes, he’s still a unique film artist but – as the TV Barnabas so memorably quipped – “Uniqueness is not necessarily a good thing.”

David Melville