Saturday, March 26, 2011

Literary Rant: In Defense of Dolores Haze

She's really the tease, you know. It's not that Humbert is a totally innocent party or anything, but she's the one who seduces him, lies to him, and sleeps around. And what about that annoying temper? Really, what a little brat, not to mention a precocious minx. She doesn't seem all that pretty, either, and is overall kind of average, nothing to write home about. How are we supposed to sympathize with her when she actively sought out sex with her stepfather, had it coming, and we don't even like her?

And thus the majority of opinions out there concerning 12-17-year old Dolores Haze, also known as Dolly, Lo, Lola, Carmen, Carmencita, but every so often she's called Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov's nymphannical anti-protagonist, Humbert Humbert.

Lolita is not only my favorite novel. Yes, it has the greatest prose I've ever read, with phrases that sort of come at me in my eerie, spectral day-to-day life. Yes, it has a little bit of everything--satire, suspense, mystery, depravity, comedy, abstraction, tragedy, violence, beauty, and oh, yeah, romance. But it also hosts my favorite heroine in brave Dolly Haze, for all the terrible press she gets.

Some feminists defending her character may be tempted to blame Nabokov for choosing not to include her side of the story, and to paint her at times as the most excruciating of teeny-bopper harpies, out of some misplaced, misogynistic sympathy for his antihero, Humbert Humbert. I call, "nope." Nabokov knew exactly what he was doing. He fully realized he was creating the world's most unreliable narrator in Humbert Humbert. But more than that, Nabokov understood that Lolita's actions are only treacherous in the eyes of a child molester desperate to keep her by his side at all times. Nabokov placed us so skillfully in Humbert "the pentapod monster's" shoes that we unwillingly and unconsciously start relating to him, and start seeing his world through his own filtered, cynical lens.

What Nabokov does to Lolita, without explicitly outlining it for the reader, is make her a precocious, courageous, tragic child who loses control of her life, but struggles to regain that control even after repeatedly being broken and abused. And although she ultimately fails in her efforts to rebuild a healthy life for herself, she still triumphs by keeping intact a small, careworn, but still faintly, faintly throbbing store of empathy, compassion, and childlike optimism inside of her.

I don't want to go too far in the other direction of her critics by idealizing her. No, it certainly isn't normal for a preteen to put the sexy moves on her stepfather. And yes, by novel's end, she most definitely is emotionally stunted. But the fact that she is picking herself up and moving on at all, with a minimum amount of bitterness, is inspiring when you consider that no one would expect that from a child who'd been through what she endures--losing a father, losing a brother, losing her verbally abusive, unstable mother who always resented and demeaned her, getting repeatedly raped and entrapped by the one adult figure she believed valued her, then falling in love with a wretched pedophile who abandons her when she refuses to "souffler his beastly boys."

And no, she isn't insane after all this. She maintains a personal dignity and unflappable will, which readers insist on chalking up to cut-and-dried snottiness. Some of her actions are indeed snotty, sure. She is a teenage girl, after all. But why, if she's nothing but a shallow slut who beds her stepfather and then quickly tires of him, won't she participate in that porno? Why, when at the end of the book when she's living in poverty and Humbert asks her "to leave [her] incidental Dick, and this awful hole," does she stay, and not just play along with Humbert and then abandon him when she has enough money? And why, after the way Humbert has mangled her life, does she pat his hand and call him honey?

Because underneath all the "awful juvenile cliches" and the various temper tantrums and changeful attitudes, Dolores is a good person. Tarnished, yes. Super nice? Not all the time, no. But she's good, and she's strong, otherwise there's no way she would adorably chant, "Good by-aye!" from her doorway when Humbert forces himself to leave her that last time, a wide, hopeful smile on her face as she waves to him enthusiastically.

I don't think any of us can judge Lo until we've been raised by Charlotte Haze. She might not beat Dolly with a wire hanger (that we know of), but when your mother has an insidious and unshakable jealousy and distrust of you, that's really gonna mess you up some. Imagine yourself, an impressionable, cheerful kid of twelve, overhearing your mother airily telling your crush that she sees you as "a sturdy, healthy, but decidedly homely kid." (There's no proof Lo actually overhears this, but Charlotte's never delicate about when and where she says shit). Oh, and she suspects you of ruining her back by spitefully throwing toys out of your crib when you were an infant, forcing her to bend over and pick them up. You basically feel like she hates you, and that she's competing with you. That last one especially, without an understanding paternal figure to help counterbalance Charlotte's influence, will most likely sexualize a girl before she's mentally and physically ready.

Now imagine having that mentality and then a handsome stranger enters. Because--and going by the evidence, I think we can trust Humbert's self-assessment here--Humbert is a handsome man. Movie star, dashingly handsome. And he's charming, and he shows an interest in Lolita that isn't centered around highlighting her faults or putting her down. He flirts with her. Lolita responds. How many of us at age twelve wouldn't if a magical Johnny Depp figure actively engaged us and teased us gently? And add that to the age-inappropriate, hostile environment she's grown up in, and the peer pressure she experiences at camp, then yes, it's a little logical that she might play the wayward temptress. She truly doesn't have a better model or life experience to base her behavior on.

But what I really love about Lo is how she maintains, through all the crap thrown her way, a brilliant sense of individuality. Even Humbert, at the height of his hurt-lover spiteful descriptions of her, can't stifle the unexpectedly delightful traits in Lo's character. Take Chapter 27 in Part I, where she brilliantly and sardonically describes her time at summer camp, displaying a wonderfully intuitive intelligence and wacky sense of humor. Some of that may be Humbert's witty embellishment, but you get the feeling the general opinions and spirit are uniquely hers. And she keeps that fighting spirit, up till the bitter end. Preserving some of her compassion and endurance makes her an admirable character, but also preserving her wit and spunk are what make her a likable character in My Humble O.

So what do I think of the two movin' pikchers? Overall I prefer Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version, starring James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, and Sue Lyon in the title role. Adrian Lyne's 1997 version is technically the more faithful adaptation of the book, but Kubrick wins on tone. He keeps the manic, comical, and dark edge that Nabokov wrote, and for me, I'll take faithful tone over faithful storyline any day. Besides, it's not like the Kubrick film deviates all that wildly from the set-up, just taking minor liberties in setting. And I'd just like to point out that while Sue Lyon certainly doesn't look twelve, she does pass for 15-17, which accurately depicts part of Lolita's age range. Plus, James Mason and Shelley Winters are Humbert and Charlotte. Straight out of the pages. I haven't seen either actors perform better in any other movie, though they're always great. Meanwhile, I simply cannot stand Melanie Griffith as an actress, and her Charlotte in the 1997 version looks stiff and miserable, instead of loud, phony, and flamboyant as Charlotte should be. And Jeremy Irons's Humbert looks the part, but is so muted and gentle that you feel too much sympathy for Humbert, and you lose his biting contempt, his monstrousness. In fact, that's how I feel about the whole 1997 movie: too delicate, too lyrical. That actually dampens the tragedy and pathos, because we don't get the violent suspense that darkens the beautiful ride.

Except I will give the 1997 movie this: they do the best job at making Lolita's plight poignant. If Lyne hadn't filmed Humbert so sympathetically, I think there'd be no question who the strongest, best character in the story is. There's a scene soon after Humbert abducts her where Lolita's goofing around with him, playing the wisecracking, carefree moll. But then we cut to her in bed alone. She's crying. Not in imitation of a delicate Victorian girl's quiet, long-suffering sniffs, but in childish, panicking, defeated wails, sounding all the world like a baying moose. It's a harrowing scene, and one that's repeated later in the film when Humbert strikes her in the car. Swain (who I think did a wonderful job) stares at him for a split second afterward. Her expression is a strange oxymoron: resigned disbelief. Then she snaps and returns to the moose tears, running clumsily out of the car, Humbert at her heels. He forces her into his embrace, and what does she do? Buries her face in his chest. What other option does she have? "You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go."
Humbert really does love Lolita, I believe. He is a work of fiction, so we can risk romanticizing him just a bit more than we would your average grungy pedophile. But I also believe he truly loves her because he portrays her ugliness, her strident flaws, yet always through the lens of adoring her all the same, and acknowledging that she magnifies this behavior out of necessity, in response to his crushing obsession.

After all, though it is love, it is a terrible, unhealthy, corrosive love, that literally destroys everything and everyone around it. He may be a romanticized pedophile, but the most romanticized love of a pedophile is still detrimental, acidic and awful.

Yet through this acidic narrative, Lolita's small voice is nevertheless heard, lingering even after (A MAJOR SPOILER!) she dies in childbirth.* From her shaky beginnings Lolita manages to become, before she dies, "brave Dolly Schiller": a supportive wife and expectant mother, making ends meet for her and her husband. I, like Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran), agree with Vera Nabokov's take on Lolita's character. Vera, of course, was Nabokov's wife, and to whom this book and many others of his were dedicated. She's the likeliest candidate to know what truly went on in that butterfly-obsessed, staggeringly brilliant author's mind, and probably understood his literary intentions better than anyone.  Nafisi quotes her diary entry, written in response to the reception not only the book received, but also the eponymous girl herself received:

They all miss the fact that the 'horrid little brat' Lolita is essentially very good indeed--or she would not have straightened out after being crushed so terribly, and found a decent life with poor Dick more to her liking than the other kind.
Mrs. Nabokov caught that gleam of goodness immediately, privy as she was to the author's intimate thoughts. The skeptical reader can find that goodness as well, but probably with a bit more digging. The true genius of Lolita is that for all its many intricacies and verbal traps, the most subtle part of the book is the heroine herself, whom the book is allegedly all about. Her goodness and her strength are there, as frank as her pregnant stomach. Unlike Humbert, however, she does not advertise it as a "tangle of thorns" for the "ladies and gentlemen" of the jury to gawk at mercilessly.

*MORE SPOILERS, FOR LOLITA AND DAVID COPPERFIELD: I'm still trying to work out if there's any deep, meaningful connection to why I'm so drawn to two literary ladies who die from complications in childbed, Lolita and Dora Spenlow. I'm guessing they both meet their ends this way because they're spiritually children, and making them successful mothers would undercut their tragedies as characters. They are forever unwilling female variations of Peter Pan, denied adulthood by their creators. Sucks, huh? Either I'm attracted to the pathos of it all because I'm a staunch feminist...or I just like goofy, childlike characters. What that says about my maturity? Uhhhh....never mind. So, what about that Batman? You know what would be neat? Casting a Batman movie with Disney characters. Batman would totally be Beast, Catwoman would be Nala, and....

Monday, March 21, 2011

So, why wasn't Justin Timberlake nominated for Social Network?

Hey, I've finally become a semi functional member of my generation, everyone! I actually sat down and watched The Social Network a few days ago. (Look, I was a poor student when it came out, and I've been really, really lazy since then! Leave me alone in my craptitude.) Anyways, instead of blabbing on about stuff others more coherent than I have already covered about the movie, such as Jesse Eisenberg's spot-on performance (he's like every jerk I've ever met!) and my peculiar fondness for the Winklevi (you know they apparently have a facebook page?), I've decided to harp instead on the Academy for leaving out Timberlake's performance as Sean Parker in this year's nominations.

I staunchly refused to like him when I was a pretentious elementary/middle schooler, back when he was all the rage in that one band all the kids rocked out to.  I was obviously the coolest little girl on the block, and "above" such nonsense. (Because, you know, pretending to like KORN was "keeping it real.") But even now that I've recovered from my judgmental preteen bitchiness--well, no, not really--I'll freely admit I was dubious about him a tad when I first heard he was in this.

Well, I'm stupid. The guy was great. His delusional, fast talking on the telephone to Zuckerberg in That One Scene was the ultimate portrayal of a douchebag so high on his own douchebaggery and inflated sense of self-worth that he's slowly driven kind of cuckoo by his hyper self-involvement.

So really, Academy? Not a lousy Best Supporting Actor nom? Is it because he's Banksy? Is that it? You allow him to design your Oscar sets, but when it comes to actual Awards, you draw the line? That's some cold hypocrisy right there.

P.S. My sister and I agree on the film's best line--

"You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."

YES. Take that, some boys I've met! Seriously, that chick was my favorite character in the film. Dang, to be half that eloquent around people who make my head scream with the anger.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Aw, there always be one I'm fergettin'

After updating last night and foolishly convincing myself I'd covered all my bases (O the hubris! The folly of the blog!), I found my mom watching a late-night re-run of Frasier. That's when it hit me. I had failed. Failed so humiliatingly. So per my last post, here's another TV plot development that gits to me:

Niles's love for Daphne revealed too soon

I can't really blame the show for this'un, actually. It must be difficult maintaining that level of comic tension so long, keeping a nice balance between figuring out new ways Niles has to cover his tracks so Daphne won't find out, and how long Daphne can stay oblivious to this pompous, buffoonish psychiatrist's adoration before we start thinking the psychic home healthcare worker a little dim.

Like I said before, sitcoms usually aren't my venue of choice. I know I'm not alone in my aversion to canned laughter, small sets, and tried and true situations playing out over and over again. I'm definitely not heartbroken that it seems now a dying medium. But there are some exceptions that I do enjoy: Fawlty Towers, parts of That 70s Show, and obviously Frasier, to name a few. Fawlty Towers is probably the second greatest show ever produced (after classic Simpsons...and, hell, actually maybe a little after MST3K), That 70s Show reminds me all nostalgic-like of my middle school years when the show was at its best, and Frasier's like those old drawing-room comedies, poking light fun of its menagerie of pretentious, effete leading characters. My grandma was a huge Frasier fan, so the show has some great sentimental value for me, too. I remember how she'd crack up talking about the unseen Maris, and my mom fondly recalls how she'd talk about the characters like they were real. "That Frasier is such a snob," she'd snap disapprovingly.

The unrequited, unspoken Niles/Daphne interactions were my favorite part of the show. David Hyde Pierce added such ingenious little touches to Niles's reactions around Daphne, his glassy eyes almost always locked on her worshipfully, even when the scene didn't center around them. Once Frasier deliriously let it slip to Daphne, that fervent worship lost a lot of its comic edge and its poignancy. Imagine if the Trix bunny ever actually eats a bowl of Trix, or the leprechaun gets his Lucky Charms (it's not product placement, I'm just hungry!). You may want those cereal icons to triumph over those damn ungrateful snot-nosed kids, but where would you go from there?

Scenes where Niles sniffs Daphne's hair and overreacts to any inadvertent double entendres escaping her lips lack the same hilarious effect once all that action is reciprocated. Plus, once Daphne starts dating Niles and becomes subsequently immersed in Seattle's high society, much of her kooky spaciness is replaced by a polished sophistication. And...that's boring as hell. Especially for someone adorably out-there like Daphne. The show is chock-full of enough erudite sophisticates as it is!

I wish the creators had waited until at least the last season--maybe even the series finale--before getting those two kids together. I realize that's demanding too much, but hey. Dass what I do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bogus Developments in TV Shows

Nothing makes you go "hmmmm" all skeptical-like than when you're watching some sort of fictional visual media and someone acts out of character, a ludicrous plot development occurs out of nowhere, hearts inexplicably break, etc. This is most prevalent in TV shows. For if a show is successful and runs for an indefinite period of time, actors may leave, trends may change, writers might quit and new ones come on board--resulting in what comes across as clumsy shifts in the show's rhythm and storyline. Other times, it's more difficult to pinpoint the source of the disruption, and you feel like the writing's been screwed with out of nowhere. I'm not necessarily talking about jumping the shark. Sometimes that's what happens, or sometimes these spurious developments can be rather minor stuff that, while the show is still written well and entertaining overall, still sticks under craws like mine. Here are a few of my TV related pet peeves:

1. Liz Lemon wanting a baby, 30 Rock

 This one's been a part of Liz's character since the middle of Season 1, but it still rings false to me. Liz from the get-go has been portrayed as antisocial ("How could Liz win a fellowship award? She doesn't like people"), insensitive, emotionally immature, self-centered, a wee bit vicious, and not partial to that much touching or companionship ("Ugh, all the nodding and smiling and sibling-listing. And what’s the upside? It works and you have to have a bunch of sex?")--and we love her for it. She's a comical wonderland of disgruntlement, a lovable, misanthropic curmudgeon who will cut you so deep you'll actually have a chin if you touch her sandwich.

Yet we're supposed to buy that deep down this loving lady wants a baby.

This gets to me because, like Jack Donaghy says, it's too Murphy Brown. This specific trope has been done, repeatedly: baby-frenzied working gals.  The inaccurate and dated message is that all an edgy, working, single woman wants is to be a mommy. Who cares that her personality might be the very anathema of parenthood, and that you'd think she'd have the intelligence to recognize this. I fully realize that a lot of this in 30 Rock might have to do with Fey herself writing this element of the character. Fey is, in point of fact, a mother. But the thing is that while Liz is obviously based on Fey and therefore has inherited many of her quirks, Liz is the Comedy Show Character equivalent of Fey--meaning she's probably a lot more mean, exaggerated, and cartoonish than the real Fey. Not that Tina Fey's a namby-pamby weakling who can't get her bitch on, but I doubt she was her high school's unaware bully like Liz.

So wanting a baby? Liz? While many of her baby-related shenanigans turn out hilarious, it still doesn't fully come off for me because I just don't see someone like Lemon, who we viewers know pretty well by now, working so hard for something non-edible and who demands cuddling and love. That ain't the Lemon way, God bless 'er.

My mom just pointed out that Liz's baby-craziness might have more to do with her feeling like something's missing in her life than truly wanting a baby. I have to say I agree. I hope Fey let's that dawn on Liz, and our Lemon simply finds a healthier TV dinner to fill that void, served to her by Astronaut Mike Dexter. Possible series finale?

2. Spike's obsession with Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I guess when David Boreanaz left the show to start Angel, Whedon et al were like, "Gee! Which Vampire could drool pre-Cullen style over Buffy now?" And thus the Angelification of Spike began.

My problem with his love for Buffy stems from a variety of reasons.
1. It's too sudden. I'm sure you could argue that often when you like someone you've known for awhile, it does indeed suddenly come upon you. But I call horse-shit. In the space of two episodes he dreams about her, snaps, and acts like a scared sheep whenever he sees her from then on. One episode he hates her, the next he's her full-on unrequited Romeo. Too much all at once, without enough of a transition period. His devotion felt very thrown in for the sake of ratings.
2. The Angelification thing again. They kept Spike's dialogue punkish and all, but by Season 7 when he gets his soul back, he's just not the same Spike he was. Where once he was a jolt of psychotic, bubbling frenzy, he's now mopey and more subdued. He's Angel plus peroxide. And that kills much of his energetic, malicious joy that first drew us to his character.
3. Lack of chemistry. Marsters and Gellar ignite great sparks together as enemies, but I never felt the romantic, sensual stuff. Maybe Spike thinking she's cute and slowly growing fond of her, sure. But red-hot obsessed? Not with someone like Buffy. She's too American Girl Nextdoor for his type, aside from all the slaying. Mostly because....
4. She's not Drusilla. Many anti-Spuffers (did I really just type that?) will tout the very credible point that Angel/Buffy are Twoo Wuv incarnate in the Whedonverse, and Spike can't compete with that. But frankly, I'm more pissed off on behalf of the Spike/Dru relationship. In just one season, they captured my attention and support more than three seasons of Angel and Buffy a-pinin' fer one another. Now, if given the option, I'll usually go with Baddie in love with Good Guy over Baddie/Baddie and Goodie/Goodie. I likes me some opposites attract, yessir. So you'd think I'd go more for Spuffs than Spru (heh, I can make up kitchy couple names all by myself, yes I can!). 

But when you think about it, part of the lure involved in Spike and Drusilla's dynamic is that it is rooted in opposites attract. Both are villains, but they're evil in very, very different ways. Spike's a little bit punk rock, Dru's a little bit Victorian harpsichord. He's the duster and the motorcycle, she's the tarot cards and the porcelain dolls. He's the muscle, she's the crazy. And his adoration of her is so intense, so pervasive, that it was shocking to viewers used to the show's portrayal of soulless vampires as strictly unloving and unromantic. Perhaps the show's sweetest moment came in the finale of Season 2, when Spike forces Dru to leave Sunnydale with him (um, spoilers, I guess). He's angrily driving along when he glances over at Dru's unconscious form slumped against the window in the passenger seat. Without changing his stern, devil-may-care expression, he grabs her with his free arm and hugs her to him tightly. VILLAIN AWW!

(I harp about this also because I just really, really love Drusilla. She's my favorite Whedonverse character, even over Fred Burkle a little.)

Spike and Buffy had their true loves, and they were not each other. It feels wrong to have either of them succumb to the other one's charms.

Speaking of Buffy....

3. Willow's lesbianism

It's admirable for a show not to shrink away from diversity, to bring in other sexualities and so forth at a time when it wasn't quite the norm yet. And it's of course not unheard of for someone you think was totally straight to totally be not all of a sudden. 

Or else there's something more cynical going on. Sometimes producers pick up on what they think is "hip," decide a topic like sexuality is trendy, and apply it when in a pickle--i.e., when Seth Green leaves the show and you need a replacement love interest. And seeing as Willow is unconventional in terms of who's usually popular in teen TV shows, why not make her a lesbian, especially now that she's a wacky, wild, wiccan college student? Because obviously gay = unconventional wiccan hippy. Always.

Making Willow a lesbian feels forced and out of place. While there were hints of her vampire doppelganger having Sapphic leanings earlier in the show, it doesn't really explain her longstanding infatuation with Xander and her sincere love for Oz. And I just don't buy the whole, "It's not women I'm attracted do. It's one woman." Because after they make her a lesbian, the writers often make a point of demonstrating how she's apparently just not into the opposite sex no more (like when she tries to turn that dude into a woman in that episode where all the women in Sunnydale fall sway to that football player's literal magic). 

It's like the writers didn't know how else to express Willow growing as a character, her transition into a self-confident witch from the mousy cesspool of adorable insecurity she was at Sunnydale High. Her relationship with Tara was a gutsy move, to be sure, and it did help bring homosexuality into mainstream television. And it's not that I dislike Tara as a character--in my ideal scenario, she would join the Scoobies of her own accord, keeping her sexual preference intact, without making a big, ratings-invested deal out of it: "No, Xander, I don't want to sleep with you. Y'see, I'm a lesbian." "Oh. Cool."

I've heard conflicting stories about how Willow/Tara came to be. Initially I read that it was Alyson Hannigan and Joss Whedon's mutual decision to turn Willow and Tara's relationship into something more than platonic. But then I've also heard it said that Whedon just didn't know what to do with Willow romantically once Green left to pursue his movie career, and Whedon thought Amber Benson entering the scene was a sign of what to do. Either way, I really miss Oz/Willow. 

Hm, a lot of these pet peeves of mine center around people messing with my favorite pairings. Sorta like....

5. Jackie and Hyde breaking up and Jackie moving on to Fez, That 70s Show

...Actually, I can't even write about this one. It makes me too damn mad. Man, I don't even like sitcoms like this all that much! But...damn! What were they thinking?


*PLEASE READ*:   I don't even feel vaguely qualified to tackle what's happening to Japan in my blog. Anything I'd try to say would sound pretentious and uneducated, even more so than usual. And that's the last thing I want to do in a situation like this. Blah-blahing about TV is one thing, but this? I started this blog to expound on my frivolous musings, which you so couldn't determine from the above subject matter. I'd only end up frustrating myself trying to express in this format the effect this devastation has had on not only Japan, but on the world as a whole. The least I can do is remind my undoubtedly already aware readers, few and awesome as you are, of that one organization called The Red Cross that's currently accepting donations for the relief effort, as it tends to do. I know money's tight for just about everyone right now, but if you feel like donating just a bit, follow that link. Thank ya much.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sympathy for the Non-Threatening, Well-Meaning Devil: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Mrs. Dalloway


So I finally sat down the other day and watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) for the first time. It was very singy, soft, and frothy. IN A FRENCH FILM?! After recovering from my scathingly sarcastic shock, I ruminated about it for a little while.

The two young lovers, Genevieve and Guy (the very blonde Catherine Deneuve and the very there Nino Castelnuovo), are star-crossed and giddy, full of vivacious passion for each other. When Guy reveals he's been drafted into the army, the gorgeous, heart-rending "I Will Wait For You" plays as they walk broken and dazed down their favorite streets in Cherbourg. Then--woe!--even their great, eternal love cannot keep them from falling, during Guy's absence, into other arms.

And you know what? After careful meditation, I discover I much prefer those other arms to the principal lovers.

Maybe I'm wired wrong. Maybe Guy and Genevieve's love isn't a deliberate spoof on swoony, semi-queasy infatuation that I secretly think director Jacques Demy was hinting at, and their devotion is instead "The Real Thing." Maybe I should approve of their teeny-bopper spurts of poetic song-speak, and be genuinely touched when Genevieve buries her pale face into Guy's strong hands, begging him not to leave her. I said, I'm wired wrong. Them two don't grab my sympathy nearly as much as Genevieve's older, devoted suitor Roland (Marc Michel), or the pining, hardworking Madeleine (Ellen Farner), who nurses Guy's ailing godmother and provides moral support for them both.

If I were Genevieve, I would have chosen the older, sophisticated, quietly wistful Roland in a heartbeat, whether or not there were certain circumstances that kind of demanded I did. I mean, he doesn't do a lot for me, but neither does Guy. My faulty wiring dictates I choose weirdos to crush on, and neither men are spooky or off-kilter enough for my tastes. But Roland's story appeals to me more than any of the other characters'. Despite all the duets Guy and Genevieve volley back-and-forth, I find Roland's brief, melancholic solo about his lost love Lola the most intoxicating moment in the film.

I acknowledge it's wrong in a lot of ways. He's older than Genevieve. And his unrequited love for Lola could foreshadow vague shades of Vertigo in the future for Genevieve--although I don't see how anybody could even attempt making over Deneuve to look like Anouk Aimee. Y'see--and this might be part of what's so fascinating about Roland to me--after watching the movie I toddled on over to IMDb, as I always do, and scouted out the trivia. The "Lola" story is from a previous Demy film called Lola (appropriately enough), in which Aimee stars as the titular showgirl, with Michel in the same role of Roland. Only Lola's Roland is apparently much more of a rebellious firebrand than the somewhat stiff and moody jewelry salesman we see in Umbrellas.

The invisible evolution of this character from Guy-like ragamuffin to staid, reliable bachelor with a hidden store of passion is tantalizing to think about. And at the core of this passion is nothing but a noble regard for Genevieve. More than any of Guy's impassioned oaths never to forget Genevieve, I found Roland's curiously calm and detached profession to her mother that he lives for Genevieve far more romantic. Plus, there's the scene when he first sees her which I find ever-so sweeping: he's bartering some gems with the local jeweler, flippantly comparing them to what Sleeping Beauty wore, when he happens to look up and his blue eyes grow misty with tender surprise at the sight of the taciturn Genevieve shuffling quietly into the shop.

Nothin' quite like instant, unwavering, unrequited love to make a movie memorable.

As for Madeleine, I guess you could write off my sympathy for her as part of my crusading bid to root for the underdog, the plainer girl in painful love with the strapping protagonist. I mean, let's face it, that's probably the only reason why I'm a Spock/Chapel fan, for example. And yes, despite everything, deep down in my core I'm still a House/Cameron fan (YEAH THERE I SAID IT WHUT! OPPOSITES ATTRACT FTW!). But that's not always the case with me. Like I said in my Dora Spenlow post, I'm much more a fan of her character than I am of the long-suffering Agnes, and my heart goes out to the beloved, distraught Lucy rather than the hilarious but quite demented Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Maybe supporting unpopular pairings is another of my inexplicable tics.

Or maybe, just maybe, I find Madeleine's character more likable than Genevieve. Simple as that.

We can rule out my natural inclination as a brunette to demonize the lovely blonde--remember, I side with yellow-haired Lucy over Lovett. But unlike Lucy and Dora, Genevieve is too icy. There's nothing warm or cuddly about her--too aloof and French valley-girl for my tastes, even in her scenes with Guy. Again, this might be intentional on Demy's part, and it may be how he directed Deneuve to act. I think he knew what he was doing. But Madeleine in her few scenes is a woman replete with warmth. That can be suffocatingly cloying, or it can be endearing. Ferner manages to imbue Madeleine with the latter trait without making a show of it; in other words, while Deneuve is off in beautiful-ice-queen-twinkly-land, Madeleine captures the role of the insecure, shy, but ultimately strong woman more capable of long-lasting love. And unlike David Copperfield's Agnes, Madeleine is a bit dowdier and mousier, which makes her angelic qualities more palatable, and her all around character more relatable.

She ends up the epitome of the underdog who I want to shake by the shoulders and say, "it'll be okay! He has to love you eventually! I mean, you're sweet and junk! So he has to! Right? Right??"

She--and to a certain extent, even the dreamy Roland--anchor the movie with loves far more enduring than the white-hot blah blah of Genevieve and Guy. Roland and Madeleine might not seem as conflicted on the surface, or demand as much, but their comparatively simple and frank desires are in stark relief to the raging, outsized hormones wafting from our leads.

Which brings me to Richard Dalloway and Lucrezia Smith in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

I've read the book twice--first in an airport, crankily waiting for a flight, so I didn't really take it all in at the time, then later in a Virginia Woolf class, where the professor actually made us think about what we were reading. I liked it much better then. One of the most enjoyable parts of that class was our required participation on an online message board, where we could basically just expound on whatever facet of the book we found interesting.

One topic I brought up was that Rezia and Richard are the only purely good and likable characters in the novel.

Woolf is a great writer, but she's not always a  fun writer. You could argue that's not the point of reading her. The point is to find a human truth at the center of her characters' inner monologues, facing things they don't want to face, and consequently, that the audience doesn't want to face. She accomplishes this like nobody's bidness, yeah.

But not everyone on the planet has the luxury to allow such upper-class, wistful, deep thoughts to pervade his or her consciousness, or the erudite education to make those thoughts read beautifully even as they reveal the ugliness creating them. And after awhile, Clarissa Dalloway's uptight repressed lesbianism, Peter Walsh's grandiose self-pitying, and Septimus Warren Smith's agonizing madness can grate on one's nerves with how self-centered and overwhelmingly complex their inner conflicts are.

I start to crave comparative bores like Richard and Rezia. Now Rezia isn't hard to sympathize with, so I realize this is no shocking announcement. She's the displaced, unloved wife of Septimus, torn away from her native Milan in order to join her beloved husband in a cramped apartment in London. She's there with only him, and then he rapidly presents symptoms of shell-shock having survived the horrors of WWI. And as no one at the time would admit shell-shock was a real outcome of having bombs constantly exploding right next to you, Rezia is pretty much brushed off and left alone to care for her husband. She carries the brunt of his madness on her shoulders alone. She lacks much imagination, and maybe that's why she sticks it out with Septimus--or perhaps she takes the bonds of marriage seriously, and has sympathy and respect for the turmoil he endured. She does what she does and feels what she feels without shrinking into self-aggrandizing reverie, and for all her plainness of manner and appearance, I think that makes her a truly beautiful, uncorrupted character when compared to the society surrounding her.

To a lesser extent, I feel the same toward Richard, though it's harder to explain why. He's certainly got it better than poor Rezia. He's well off, well respected, and is, well, comfortable. But the thing is he realizes this, and appreciates it without aching for past regrets. His biggest conundrum is expressing his love to Clarissa, but let's face it: Clarissa doesn't exactly inspire one to pour out loving confidences, so maybe it's not all due to Richard's so-called stale personality. Richard's not bombastically, daringly original like Peter, but he does love and he does feel--much more genuinely than Peter, in my book. He loves his daughter Elizabeth. That the cynical Sally Rosseter nee Seton acknowledges this at the story's end and says, "Richard has improved," is evidence enough for me that Woolf creates a good, solid character. A character Clarissa probably needs and relies on more than she, or possibly even Woolf, realizes.

And we readers too need these predictable, blessedly sane characters to keep us afloat amongst breathtaking prose and starry musical romance. Complexity and overwrought emotions are part of what make art great, but if we have no oasis of calmness and sincerity, we have nothing to fall back on, nowhere to catch our breath.You can't have one extreme or another. Nothing but mousy shyness, unrequited love, and well-adjusted gentlemen would induce yawns and impatient punchiness after awhile. On the other hand, nothing but eccentricity and wildness in a piece would soon become self-defeating, since unique is only unique if it has something normal to compare itself to.

Balance is necessary in any medium. Characters like Roland and Madeleine in Umbrellas and Richard and Lucrezia in Mrs. Dalloway illustrate not only this rule, but also that still waters run deep. Their emotions are undoubtedly just as strong as those expressed in unending song or verbose inner monologue. But instead of indulging in those two venues, characters like the above know their feelings and desires down to their bones in ways those other characters may not, therefore feeling little need to magnify their emotions. The sheer, glossy entertainment factor might not be as present in these characters, but in retrospect, their plights might get to you a bit more once the story ends.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Two Things Tina Fey Should Do

1. Host the Oscars. After the recent fiasco, wherein James Franco's cool (?) aloof was mismatched with Anne Hathaway's desperately forced cheeriness, we need to bring adorable cynicism back to the Academy, without an overabundance of da saccharine. Somebody who don't take Hollywood seriously, but is still together enough to take charge. Thus, Fey. Anybody catch when she and Downey Jr (HAWT) presented Best Something-Something Screenplay last year or the year before? Yeah, that was pretty much great.

2. Play Lois Lane. Well...maybe ten years ago. But heck, why not now? Lady still got it. She already plays Lois gone wrong (yet so wonderfully right) on 30 Rock, and you could argue her work on SNL's Weekend Update echoed Lo's devotion to journalism and snark.

Plus, most of the menfolk I know agree that Fey's a hottie. But she's not a Pfeifferesque superhero  hottie--more the intellectual, His Girl Friday hottie. In other words, the archetypal Lois Lane hottie.

As gorgeous as he is, though, I don't see Jon Hamm as her Clark, as certain people have decided. He's way more the broodish Bruce Wayne type.

(There's a small part of me that wants to go back some twenty-odd years and cast Matthew Broderick as Jimmy Olsen).

So, Hollywood, get the net and get on this.

Because there ain't no party like a Liz Lemon party.

Because a Liz Lemon party is mandatory.




(Vid by ullxthankxmexl8ter)

P.S. Guess what I literally just found out? So there I was, merrily watching Superman: The Animated Series  (just as delightful and giddy as its Batman counterpart, and where I got that Lois/Supes picture from), without knowing--until now--that Lex Luthor's glowering henchwoman Mercy was voiced by none other than Lisa Edelstein, a fellow snarky take-charge woman on TV: House MD's Dr. Cuddy. Who knew?