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Archive for September, 2010

So I seem to recall hearing some stuff recently about the genre community, unrepentant, vitriolic Islamophobia, bigotry going unpunished by so-called advocates for safe spaces, and–you know, look, if this isn’t ringing a bell, just stop reading, because I’m not going to recap what’s essentially been front page news for weeks in the Genre Writers with Internet Presence Times.

For weeks now I’ve been typing up half-posts, trying to figure out what’s been bothering me about this whole situation, and completely failing. But yesterday I was able to really identify for the first time the source of my discomfort. The smart, savvy Shweta Narayan asked an insightful question about WisCon’s decision to not strip Elizabeth Moon of her Guest of Honor status. She asked: Who do you think will, or should, carry the burden of the Teaching Moments at the con?

OK. Yes. Here is the thing: before posting her hateful screed against Muslims and their allegedly uncitizenlike behavior (you know, like always trying to build community centers and shit), Elizabeth Moon was in a position of power. From reading her bio on her website, we can see that she was a white, Christian American who was college-educated. She actually holds multiple college degrees. She had been taught by the Marines to use computers during the infancy of computer science. She was able to pursue a career in writing that led to her winning multiple high-profile awards.

Now, it does seem like Elizabeth Moon “earned” a lot of this “for herself,” which should be a signifier for every American reading this that she should be awarded the Holy Order of Horatio Alger. And yet, as people who like to critically engage with American notions of meritocracy know, she had herself a pretty hefty invisible knapsack of privilege. While some might describe this as “immaterial” (like, apparently, the fact that Muslims also died in the 9/11 attacks), it isn’t actually immaterial at all. It is essential for those who have benefited from unearned privilege (skin color, social class one was born into, gender, sexuality, whatever) to acknowledge they have benefited from that unearned privilege and and not cultivate a disingenuous “but I did it all by myself!” attitude which elides the very real help they’ve gotten from such. It shouldn’t (for reasonable people) diminish her accomplishments to acknowledge that she benefited from being white, Christian, etc. It does, however, contextualize those accomplishments, and it makes her ignorant ranting against Muslims who don’t “realize how much forbearance they’ve had” all the more upsetting.

So moving on, people feel icky about WisCon’s decision to keep Elizabeth Moon as the Guest of Honor. We should feel icky. Because, like I said in a somewhat roundabout way, Elizabeth Moon was in a position of power before she posted her lecture on “citizenship” (as envisioned by a white Christian ex-Marine), and Muslims in America were having their prayer rugs peed on and their mosques burned and their cemeteries being alleged as illegal and their proposed community centers being treated like. . . you know, I don’t even know what. Now, after posting her lecture on “citizenship,” Elizabeth Moon is still in a position of power, and American Muslims are still. . . I think I’ve made my point. The really shitty status quo goes unchallenged, due to people conflating “not wanting to engage in censorship” or “not wishing to violate someone’s first amendment rights” with the idea that with great power (free speech) comes great responsibility (accepting the consequences of your behavior when those consequences might be. . . saaaaaay. . . getting your Guest of Honor status revoked at a progressive convention).

WisCon, through their refusal to strip her Guest of Honor status, is basically saying “hey, it’s OK that you did this, it’s all a dialogue, right?” I mean, they’re actually saying that Elizabeth Moon “would make a positive contribution to WisCon” and she is “an idol who turns out to be human.” Well, as Saladin Ahmed pointed out, it’s not that “an idol turned out to be human,” it’s that “an idol” turned out to be “hateful and cruel and vicious.”* There’s–there’s a big difference there. And it also unfairly puts the burden of “dialogue” (and “teaching”) on Muslims, as Shweta pointed out.

And then there’s just the fact that the way Moon has behaved throughout this thing demonstrates that she doesn’t want to be taught or learn new stuff. I mean, if you’re going to be a bigot, at least be a brave bigot. Deleting 400+ comments, most of which, from what I saw, were of a “hey, being a jerk to 1 billion+ people makes you a jerk” nature makes you a coward, as does posting a snide note that amounted to “go home, kids,” as does locking the post against further comments but keeping it up. It certainly doesn’t indicate that she’s interested in dialogue or learning or, as WisCon put it so teeth-hurtingly, engaging in “a difficult conversation.” It indicates that she’s the sort of person who is right and everyone else is wrong/just doesn’t understand. And that is total bullshit, and she shouldn’t be rewarded for it.

Elizabeth Moon is a person who deliberately and unrepentantly put unnecessary stress on an already misunderstood and marginalized community. WisCon, by keeping Moon as a Guest of Honor and slapping together some panels and stuff to provide “balance,” is also putting stress on a misunderstood and marginalized community. In the wake of hateful shit being slung about, the people in power are still in power, and the people who are marginalized are still being marginalized. Nothing’s changed. And it just goes to show that when a bigot somewhat spectacularly shows her ass, as long as that ass is white, Christian, and economically successful, it’s totally OK.


*I’d like here to record Saladin’s entire comment, which I found extremely illuminating, but couldn’t find a way to neatly quote in text:

Even though some of them SHOW SIGNS of being civilized, these Muslims are dangerous and ungrateful” is not a position from which to launch reasonable discussion of our current political climate, any more than “Rape is bad, but women who dress that way are asking for it” is a reasonable point to start a discussion about rape. No one’s talking about barring her from the con–they’re talking about, in light of her remarks, an ostensibly progressive con not according her its highest honor.

I, Molly, would like to add: word.

throughout the process, mr. rutherford belleview was there to answer any and all questions

Hey! Happy Monday to me! My interview with badass zombie musicians The Widow’s Bane is up over at Strange Horizons! Thanks so much to my editor Dave, amazing senior articles editrix S.J. Chambers, every one of my friends who helped me during the process of writing and editing the piece, and, of course, The Band, Themselves.

Due to the fact this is an interview with a group of gentle and talented undead artists, I’d heartily appreciate it if anyone who reads the piece (and ends up liking them and their music) could re-post! They deserve it.

Oh, and this interview went up as part of Strange Horizons‘ 10th Anniversary celebration, so if you’ve enjoyed the high-quality fiction (and non-fiction, natch) they’ve brought you over the past decade, why not help out with their fund drive?

Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we tackle a TV show that. . . well. . . was a TV show in the mid-90s on MTV that taught me a lot about life, and no, I’m not talking about Beavis and Butt-Head.

Show: Æon Flux (animated series1991—1995)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Created by Peter Chung, who also wrote and directed several of the episodes—Chung’s oeuvre includes Phantom 2040, the disappointing Sci-fi take on Alexander the Great Reign: the Conqueror, the Chronicles of Riddick animation Dark Fury, a segment for The Animatrix, and Nickelodeon’s Rugrats. The distinctive character design, Chung’s trademark, is based heavily on the work of early 20th century artist and Klimt disciple Egon Schiele’. Scripts were by a lot of different people; I recall Japhet Asher, Liquid Television executive producer, wrote one of the episodes we sampled. Æon is voiced by Denise Poirer, a true 90s tv actor who one-off jobs for everything from Seinfeld to Frasier to Murphy Brown to 3rd Rock from the Sun, as well as a regular stint on the Spawn animated series; Trevor Goodchild is voiced by John Rafter Lee, who voiced the main bad guy in the US dub of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, as well as providing “additional voices” for the Yankee version of Princess Mononoke. Music by Drew Neumann, who also did the soundtracks for The Wild Thornberrys and Aaaahh!!! Real Monsters.

Quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stranger.”

Alternate quote: Æon: “You’re drooling on me!”

Trevor: “I’m a genius; therefore I can afford to drool.”

First viewing by Molly: I think they aired prior to The Maxx, which I somehow found out about and watched during 7th grade? I think? Maybe 8th?

First viewing by Jesse: Back in the day, when the short first started showing up on Liquid Television.

Most recent viewing by both: Last night

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: High as a Georgia pine. OMG. I had a poster up in my room FOR YEARS of Aeon that was signed by Peter Chung, and I wanted her hair more than anything in the whole world. Aeon Flux was a show that taught me a lot about things. . . things like time travel, bondage aesthetics, the grossness of watching two people’s tongues moistly connect outside their faces, how sometimes it’s OK if your plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, and the heady combination of power and sex. Also, bird-people.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. The aesthetic of the show really worked for me on most levels, but the character design always squicked me out—everyone was too angular, like they were descended from greyhounds or something. I recall digging the earlier shorts more than the full length show, although I suspect that may have simply been a matter of exposure—I saw less of the actual episodes than I did of the Liquid TV shorts, and this Diet Pepsi commercial.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Hesitant. I own the whole series on DVD, as a few years ago I got a gift certificate to a Borders and that was what I bought, for some reason? I was vaguely underwhelmed when I watched them, though—a sentiment I become increasingly more familiar with, due to this column—and promptly forgot I owned the series. Then Jesse and I were like “oh fuck, it’s Tuesday, what are we going to do for FoHA?” and I saw them whilst trawling for something to watch in my collection.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Fairly pleased by the prospect. As I said, I didn’t see a lot of the episodes when they first aired and have never been much of a tv person in general so I never caught any re-runs, but it always seemed like something I should like. Then again, I watched the live action movie and was less than impressed, so I had some grounding to not be too excited.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Oh, I dunno. Jesse kinda summed up everything I felt about the experience below, bizarrely enough. . . so I’mma take the week off. PEACE (Jesse says: WTF, dude—you’re gonna get yours. Maybe not next week, maybe not the week after, but one of these columns you are totally in for it)!

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Fun, in small doses. Overexposure strips some of the gloss, and this show is more about gloss than a Claire’s crossed with a Cinderella II’s. OK, so I feel really, seriously, intensely creepy about that last line (Molly says: as well you should, man. . .why do you even know those stores exist, unless it’s because you hang out there, offering to buy some girls a glittery barrette or something? [Jesse says: really? Really? You’re taking the week off from writing a proper column, but not from saying stuff like that? One of these days, Tanz…]), but it’s been chiseled into the stone of this dying loaner mac that hes…it…ates before letting me do anything, so I ain’t going back to take it out—just saying the show is style-heavy, is all.

Surprisingly, however, it isn’t a case of style over substance—the scripts of the episodes we sampled were very tight, if intentionally overwrought, and delectably weird. We watched three, of them, which I think had plots as follows: the episode “Thanatophobia” is about a couple who want to escape from their totalitarian city-state to the freedom-loving country literally next door, but instead wind up as disfigured sex-pawns for Æon and Trevor, who use their new conquests to make each other jealous though highly kinky, exhibitionist methods. At one point the couple manage to fuck through a gap in a border wall thanks to the woman’s missing vertebrae allowing her to stretch under a fence and provide him access to the surgical hole in her back where her artificial spine pops into place, presumably, but “it just isn’t the same.” (Molly adds: also, the title? What? “Fear of Death?” I still can’t figure out what the fuck that has to do with the episode, but given that the bird-people episode detailed below is called “Isthmus Crypticus”. . .”)

The next episode had to do with Trevor keeping a bird-woman as a possibly willing sex-slave, only to have Æon roll up in to liberate her. Unfortunately, Æon’s female assistant has a thing for a bird-man also in captivity, and before you can say don’t-touch-that-or-the-mother-will-abandon-it the assistant has shacked up with the bird-man, who is infested with deadly mites. For serious. The last episode we screened was the season finale and had Trevor getting hot and bothered over a psychic alien that doesn’t have orifices (“one would have to be creative”), Æon trying to prevent Trevor from killing half the planet only to kill the entire planet herself, and plenty of other weird shit that creeps me out just to think about.

Obviously the show is better than I remembered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in a rush to re-watch the whole series. Æon and Trevor’s ever-changing but ever-present kinkiness gets to be a bit much after a while, and as every episode seems to revolve around Trevor wanting to fuck someone/something and/or achieve ultimate power, and Æon trying to thwart him for dubious reasons, the show becomes repetitive despite its disconnected, fragmentary nature. I also feel a little weird about Æon seeming to be defined solely by her jealousy/sexuality, but since that’s how it seems to roll for all of the characters I guess that makes it less rubbing. See, you can’t even talk about this show without sounding like a perv.

High Points: The high level of kink which, when combined with the high level of camp, comes across less as exploitive and more as simply freaky. The self-referentially nonsensical nature of the show, which works better than it has any right to. The tidy action sequences, which still look pretty cool.

Final Verdict: Even after all these years, it’s still a weird, nasty, but ultimately intriguing little program.

Next Time: Time Bandits over at Fantasy Magazine!

You are all aware by now that Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we do some good work filling in yet another Arnold-shaped gap in my movie knowledge. . .

Film: Predator (1987)

AKA: Hunter (insert Frisky Dingo reference here), and Primevil—would it still be a classic if it had been saddled with this horrible title?

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by John McTiernan, who once gave a less than convincing explanation for how his film Die Hard is actually an adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Screenplay by Jim and John Thomas, who also penned the De Palma not-classic Mission to Mars. Not-really-all-that-appropriate soundtrack by Alan Silvestri (The Abyss, Lilo and Stitch), with a number by the always-appropriate Little Richard. Starring more beefcake than is really reasonable for a single film: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Kevin Peter Hall, and some other people who don’t deserve mention by virtue of not being super beasts, except maybe action movie screenwriter Shane Black, who plays the terrible nerd commando. Oh, and Elpidia Carrillo as the film’s single female character, who spends most of the time cowering.

Quote: “You’re ghostin’ us, motherfucker. I don’t care who you are back in the world, you give away our position one more time, I’ll bleed ya, real quiet.”

Alternate quote: “If it bleeds we can kill it.”

Alternate alternate quote: Not as strong guy: “You’re bleeding, man.” Stronger guy (Jesse the Body, specifically): “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

First viewing by Molly: A couple of nights ago.

First viewing by Jesse: Around eight years old.

Most recent viewing by both: A couple of nights ago.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Honestly, I had no idea there was even a monster in Predator until, seriously, I saw the trailer for Alien vs. Predator and I laughed bemusedly along with the rest of the theatre.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Sizable. Mind, I didn’t actually watch the movie with sound for years after my initial viewing, which makes a pretty big difference in appreciating the film, though the muted viewing wasn’t the impediment to understanding that it would be for most movies.

See, when I first watched this I was a really little kid visiting my family in California because my grandfather was dying. He was at home, hospice being the only real option, and wasn’t conscious most of the time. Since the only tv was in his room—he loved to watch horse racing when he was awake—when my brother Aaron and my cousin John rented Predator they had to watch it with my semi-comatose grandfather right behind them, and obviously all the shouting and explosions and gunfire and flaying of human skin wouldn’t help a dying man find peace, so they did the considerate thing and put on head phones. There weren’t enough jacks for me to listen as well, so I had to watch in silence; well, not quite silence, since the wheezing of my grandfather was right beside me. Thinking back on it, I really hope he slept through the film and didn’t awake to images of skinned people strung up in the jungle where his ponies should have been. Even without sound the film made no small impression on me, I assure you.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to watching:

(cell phone rings)

John:             Hey, Beez! What? Hold on, lemme ask. Hey Molly—Jesse wants to know if we                                     want to watch Predator tonight?

Me:                What? OK? I guess?

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Pretty happy—Molly’s reactions to seeing these movies for the first time are usually every bit as entertaining as the films themselves, and I very much doubted Predator would be the exception to the rule. I also had beer and freedom fries, which enhances the viewing of such things exponentially. The only thing I was really worried about was whether or not the movie would set off my beef allergy, and so I kept benadryl at the ready lest I break out in hives.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I know I have a degree in Women’s Studies, but fuck that noise, I’ve seen the light (hallelujah!) and that light is men. MEN. In the jungle. With MUSCLES. Solid, rippling man-flesh and man-cunning, and also sometimes a Native American with sixth sense to go with his man-flesh and man-cunning. Oh, and guns! Guns with lots and lots of bullets. But in the end, what matters is men. In the world of jungle, where a predator stalks the unwary, bullets can only take you so far. I know this now. It is man-muscles and man-brain that determine whether you’ll be skinned and hung from a tree by a snatch-faced alien, or standing above said alien until it’s time to book it away from a nuclear explosion. (Jesse says: really, it’s a small nuclear explosion, so it’s not as implausible as she’s making it sound. Also, Molly is forbidden from describing movie monsters in the future—not cool)

But seriously, wow. Wow! This movie. I got into trouble with my friend David for alleging that the first part of Predator has nothing to do with the actual movie itself, documented here in this Facebook conversation:

David: Molly, the beginning of that movie is the plot. Coincidentally an alien shows up, guns are fired, people die, but the real question remains–who is the strongest (physically that is) warrior? Only a power handshake can tell us who the greatest of foes for the predator can possibly be.

Molly: David, no. The beginning of the movie is entirely irrelevant. They could’ve plugged in any “reason” to get Arnold and Jesse the Body into South America to bazooka a bunch of huts (is that a verb? it is now!) and then get messed with by the Predator. I was unmoved at the time and remain nonplussed that Arnold’s team “only does rescue missions” or whatever, it makes no difference to his “character” since his character was mostly biceps and tying spikes to tree limbs with vines and the awesomeness of being called “Dutch” as a nickname. Which is pretty cool, don’t get me wrong–but the plot has nothing to do with the beef between the CIA and the Army or whatever Arnold and Carl Weathers argue about intensely for a few minutes before the explosions start.

David: Molly, you are mistaken and this is why. The power handshake (Jesse says: see clip below) determines not only who is the most powerful, as in who will be the champion, but also to show us the audience exactly what kind of champion we actually have. It is Dutch that will defeat any foe. As you can see, he [can] and will beat all foes in the way most fitting. Carl Weathers (or Dillon) tries to subdue Dutch with politics, but Dutch will hear no lies and defeats him with his own tactics. A handshake of unmatched power is the weapon against the enemies of freedom.

And yet.

Regardless, it is silly, and I liked it a lot. It’s not often that you find a film as educational as Predator—being in the Army is awesome; mud negates your body heat—as well as explaining perfectly why the citizens of California have elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Governator (a phrase that Wikipedia earnestly informs us is a “portmanteau” of Terminator and governor!) more than once. Seriously! Why? Because in one scene Dutch demands that Anna tell them what she saw; Anna has, up until that point, spoken only Spanish, but then, through the sheer willpower of man, Arnold Schwarzenegger (apparently) makes that girl speak English. From what I hear out of CA these days, that really, really matters to folks out there.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Jesus, man—fucking Predator. Molly’s reactions ranged from a mild gape to a full-on gawp at points, and I know my arms gained about three inches of thickness just from exposure to the testosterone levels. Really, there’s not much to be said about this film that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but holy goddamn hell, it is one stupid, loud, awesome film. My friend David wrote a paper in college breaking down the worth of the characters by their physical strength and BMI, and I’ve gotta say he hit the nail right on the head—strength is everything; well, strength, and an ability to set traps that would make Wile E. Coyote jealous.

Jean Claude Van Damme actually played the Predator for a few days before quitting and leaving the role to Kevin Peter Hall (who played Harry, of the Henderson Harrys); van Damme was apparently pissed that his face would not be shown. Sixty-four people die in the course of the film. The Predator’s blood is, indeed, made of the stuff inside glowsticks. All this is incidental, anecdotal, irrelevant: Arnold fights an alien badass in the jungle. That’s it.

High Points: The unapologetic and unintentionally hilarious machismo, which starts at farcical levels and only increases as the movie progresses. The Predator itself, which remains a pretty sweet cinematic monster. Arnold’s trap-building montage. The hand shake, which sums up the whole movie perfectly, as does the giggling in the background of the clip:

Final Verdict: Though Molly prefers her Arnold with long hair, sword, and loincloth, in terms of modern action movies where shit blows up and guns are fired, Predator is hard to match.

I just got done with a fun, busy week with my parents! They came into town last Wednesday and left Sunday morning. While they were here, we went to the Denver Botanic Gardens, did the Continental Divide drive, took a lovely hike in the Flatirons, went to the Boulder Farmers’ Market for fresh peppers and Colorado peaches and bread, visited Boulder Falls, and ate a lot of delicious food, including my parents’ first-ever encounter with Ethiopian food at Ras Kassa’s! While John took my father on a brewery tour, my mom and Raech and I all got pedicures at ten20, which is an awesome establishment for many reasons, not the least of which is that they TiVO What Not To Wear so I got to watch an episode for maybe the first time in a year. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but man, I am tired.

Now vacation is over and it’s back to work. I am anticipating receiving the edits from Strange Horizons for my interview with The Widow’s Bane (which is going up the 27th of September, so huzzah!), and working on another go-through of my novel.

Regarding the novel MS, I’ve received most of the comments back from my beta-readers, which have been incredibly helpful and not-discouraging, so that’s rad! It seems that, on the whole, everyone pretty much enjoyed reading it, and enjoyability was a huge concern for me. While I cannot be certain of the novel’s prospects, I am certain that I have written something genuine about things I care about, and I am happy about that!

In other news, I successfully veganized something I used to order when I was a vegetarian–baked goat cheese in tomato sauce. It came out amazingly well, and I plan on posting a tutorial ASAP. For any former Pinehurstians who might occasionally visit paper fruit, it’s totally that thing we used to order at Cafe Tu Tu Tango! OMG!

Film: Batman (1989)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Tim Burton, back before he came the thing he is today. Screenplay by Sam Hamm (the M.A.N.T.I.S. tv show) and Warren Skaaren (Beetle Juice), from characters created by Bob Kane. Atmospheric soundtrack by Danny Elfman and Prince—the atmosphere of the film changes quite a bit, dig? Suitably campy performances by Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Bassinger, Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, and Jack Palance.

Quote: “Never rub another man’s rhubarb!”

Alternate quote: “I have given a name to my pain. . . and it is Batman.”

First viewing by Molly: When it first came to VHS, my parents shockingly allowed me to rent it, so def. still in grade school, possibly as early as 2nd or 3rd grade?

First viewing by Jesse: At the pictures, when I was seven years old.

Most recent viewing by both: Last night.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Substantial. Violent and/or scary movies were rarely allowed in my house—seriously, when I was in high school (yes, high school) my father forbade me from watching Deliverance after a friend told me it was pretty awesome—so anything mildly spooky that squiggled through the cracks made an impression because I was always pretty hungry for dark or weird stuff. Batman was deemed acceptable for some reason, probably because of my father’s fondness for the Adam West Batman, or perhaps because it was directed by Tim Burton, and my parents enjoyed Frankenweenie and Beetlejuice. Super heroes generally held little appeal for Young Molly—too much machismo, not enough decent female characters—but the aesthetic of Batman tempted me, because while my parents were iffy about allowing violent weird movies in the house, they were dedicated to the laudable project of exposing me to Quality Cinema from Days of Yore from an early age. I’d at that point already seen quite a bit of Hitchcock, screwball comedies, and other such fare that tended to have art-deco movie magic goin on, so I could relate to the aesthetics of Batman as seen in the trailers. . . also the little snippits of the Joker really spooked me out in a way that I found interesting, so I begged and begged and lo, Batman was rented.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. As far as tights went, I was always a Bats fan—the Adam West series was one of the few programs I watched with any real regularity growing up, and so my appreciating a big budget film about the caped crusader was never really in question. I was a weird kid, though, and thus recall harboring a strong desire to see the Weird Al Yankovic vanity piece UHF instead of Batman when the choice was put to me, but my parents wisely vetoed that selection. The sequel had a bit stronger of an effect, I think, but we’ll get to that when we get to that—the point is, this movie pretty much solidified Batman’s place as my favorite superhero growing up, which is no small thing for children of my temperament.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Excited. I own the movie, as my husband is in the process of building his Michael Keaton Collection. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch Batman all the way through, but it had been, as they say, a while. I’d seen the Nolan Dark Knight in the theatre as part of the process of mourning Heath Ledger, but as much as I loved Heath’s take on the Joker, it wasn’t Jack Nicholson, who will always, for me, be the person who defined the role.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Pretty pleased about the prospect—I hadn’t watched it in maybe ten years, long before the Christopher Nolan reboots arrived. The circumstances leading to that last screening involved my going to a flea market, which is every bit as tawdry as it sounds. A greasy creep was selling old vhs tapes, most of which were lacking any kind of case, and there amidst the rubber-banded-together Titanics and Bravehearts I saw a copy of Batman.

“How much is this?” I asked.

The merchant squinted at me through horn-rimmed glasses that hadn’t been wiped off since the Reagan administration. If then. “Two bucks.”

Casually inspecting the dusty plastic vhs, I noticed the tape had long ago snapped off inside, and peering closer through the clear plastic windows that exposed the reels I could see several dead cockroaches. I said, “The tape’s broken off inside, and it’s full of dead bugs.”

“Huh,” said the merchant, wiping funnel cake sugar off on his shirt and inspecting the tape. After a moment he handed it back and said, “No charge, then.”

So I did what any eighteen year old weirdo would do—I took the vhs home, opened it up and cleaned out the bugs, and then spliced the ends of the snapped tape using the special silver splicing stickers I had gotten from a video store through some equally bizarre sequence of events. I realize this diversion had gotten rather far from the point of the movie itself and is instead show-casing my legendary—and unfairly mocked—frugality, so perhaps it would be best if we simply pretended I never said anything beyond, “Batman, yeah, awesome flick, looking forward to rewatching it.”

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: It’s really good. The aesthetics and effects have aged reasonably well for a movie from that late 80s era of OMGNOOOOOO-ness, with excellent set-design and cool costumes—in particular the purple tailcoat the Joker wears is amazing, and Michael Keaton in nerd-glasses is a nice touch, too.

Given that Tim Burton directed the film, I spent a lot of time being just so, so happy that Batman wasn’t being played by Johnny Depp and Vikki Vale’s character wasn’t obliterated by the comedic stylings. . . excuse me, acting, of Helena Bonham Carter. The triple wowza of Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands has long been the reason I get so irritated with the recent epicness of Tim Burton’s directorial failures. Every single damn time a new Tim Burton movie comes out these days to disappoint and horrify all but the most dedicated Hot Topic employees, the 5th grader in me remembers crying her eyes out at the ending of Edward Scissorhands; thinking Beetlejuice was the coolest movie ever; being terrified by the Joker. I’d throw in something about how viscerally I responded to The Nightmare Before Christmas when I saw it a million times in the theatre in 6th grade, but I don’t want to perpetuate the mistaken belief that Burton directed that film. One only need compare Corpse Bride to Coraline to see that Henry Selick was responsible for the awesomeness of Nightmare. Him, and Danny Elfman.

Enough—back to Batman. The script is pretty awesome, especially the Joker’s one-liners, though this time round I kinda noticed there are some. . . problems with the movie. I mean, OK. So at the beginning, it’s mentioned a bunch of times that Batman is a newcomer to the Gotham city crime scene. . . but then later on Bruce Wayne goes on and on about how he “has” to do this, and all this additional weirdness that makes it seem like he’d been the World’s Greatest Detective for a lot longer than, say, a month or two? I mean—did he just get all his Batman gear at once, plane, car, suit, computer station, and all? How? Who manufactures it? How does he know how to research stuff? Where does he get all his files on criminal proceedings in a pre-The Smoking Gun age? Is he naturally good at detective-ing? Was it like in Kick Ass and he started out in a black jumpsuit punching people in the face? If he’s such a great crime fighter, why isn’t he going after Jack Palance’s skyscraper full of organized criminals, instead of beating up street punks, some of whom are likely turning to crime due to, and I’m just speculating here, a damn-plausible lack of social services available in Gotham City?

But none of that seriously takes away from the film as a whole, though. I know Jesse will follow my write-up with a burn on the decision to make the Joker responsible for Batman’s parents’ death, but I like it. I think the single best thing about Tim Burton’s Batman is the careful effort to make the Joker and Batman mirror-perfect foils for one another.  This is illustrated so perfectly in the scene where Bruce Wayne tries to tell Vikki Vale about being Batman, which I could not for the life of me find on YouTube, but no matter—at first, it just seems like a nice gag when Wayne says “Nice apartment—lots of space” and the Joker reiterates that same sentiment verbatim. It becomes more apparent what’s really going on when the Joker goes on to break his former girlfriend’s mask after placing it on Vikki’s mantle, and then Brucie proves himself to be just as fucking. . . well, nuts, as the Joker:

After all, they’re both grown men who put on elaborate costumes to shape the world according to their unique vision, whether or not anyone thinks that’s a good idea or not, right? I think it’s handled lusciously, and the “we made each other” weirdness at the end works for me.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: When Batman Begins came out people were falling all over themselves to point how much darker it was than the previous four Batman films. “It’s just so dark,” they would say, as if they had just spent two hours sitting in a cave. “The old ones weren’t, you know, so dark, but this one was just, like, a really dark movie. Dark dark dark.” Sometimes that was a bad thing, as in, “it’s way too dark,” but more often than not it was a sign of respect, because we all know darkness is totally cool. Personally, although I enjoyed Nolan’s films I hate his fight sequences—they’re not “dark,” they’re muddled (Word! exclaims Molly), and while he’s obviously trying to convey the frantic feel of actually being in a fight, I for one like to see what is going on in a movie, especially when something cool is presumably happening inside all that dark dark darkness. The thing is, Tim Burton’s first crack at the Caped Crusader is plenty dark in its own right—the tone is much, for lack of a better word, darker than the Adam West series, which admittedly isn’t such a feat, but it also manages to retains some of the camp and humor of the old show while still bringing bite to the proceedings.

Jack Nicholson is clearly having the time of his life, and both his impressive costumes and accompanying Prince jams compliment his Joker nicely—but for all his campy lines and dances, this is a Joker who doesn’t think twice about murdering anyone he can get a hold of. Though he isn’t played as straight as Heath Ledger’s take on the role in The Dark Knight, Nicholson is no mustachioed Caesar Romero, either. Then there’s Batman himself, who doesn’t even attempt to take the Joker alive in the end, and Burton does some nice—if not always subtle—layering to highlight the similarities between hero and villain, though the decision to make the Joker the one who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents is a bit overkill. Michael Keaton makes a surprisingly satisfying Batman, though his Bruce Wayne is more late eighties super-nerd than playboy.

Batman is Tim Burton near the top of his game, with a superficial noir atmosphere layered nicely over the timeless Gotham his set design team assembled. The problematic class issues inherent in the Batman mythology are on prominent display here—blue collar good guy Knox gets his ass handed to him when he tries to take on the bad guys with a baseball bat, whereas Batman swoops in with his private plane and not only saves the girl Knox is after but also the whole city—but that’s always been an issue with the character, and even Christopher Nolan’s ham-fisted swipe at subverting it in The Dark Knight didn’t quite wash the taste of moldering class trash from the mouth, but so it goes. Batman may be a crypto-fascist, but he’s always been a damn cool one.

High Points: The Joker doing his thing, especially the scene in the museum. Being reminded of how impressive Tim Burton is when working with a good script and predominantly practical effects—the small uses of jarring animated effects here are a grim reminder of the over-reliance he would put on CGI in his later films. The soundtrack—Danny Elfman and Prince, together at last. The part where Conan’s sidekick from Destroyer gets shot in the gut and left in the dirt (Jesse Says: Molly’s hatred for Tracey Walter is kinda spooky—I like the guy, personally). The costumes. And, really, the Joker, who steals the show from Bats every moment he’s onscreen:

Final Verdict: We’ll dance with that devil in the pale moonlight any time.

After a hiatus of some amount of time, Jesse Bullington are once again doing Films of High Adventure, you know, where we watch “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week we recap something we viewed a while ago, which was definitely a film, but the adventure in it was more bizarre than high, at least in the sense of the word “high” that we usually intend to evoke. . .

Film: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Also Known As: No joke, the first two times I started writing the title I wrote The Awesome Dr. Phibes, and then, catching myself, started typing The Amazing Dr. Phibes instead. Ok, so not technically alternate titles, but a telling sign nonetheless. . .

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Robert Fuest, who also helmed The Last Man on Earth (I Am Legend with Vincent Price in the lead!), The Devil’s Rain (The Milk and Cheese favorite starring Ernest Borgnine!), and a bunch of episodes of The Avengers (if you’re not familiar with John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel it’s high time you made their acquaintance). Script by James Whiton (uh, an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and William Goldstein (screen story credit for The Amazing Dobermans, a movie featuring Fred Astaire fighting crime with a pack of pinschers), although Fuest apparently rewrote most of it. On one side of the ring of absurdity we have Vincent Price (everything that is good in this world) as Dr. Phibes and Bond-girl (On her Majesty’s Secret Service) Virginia North as his assistant Vulnavia (!), and on the other we have Joseph Cotton (The Third Man), Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones, the whacked out Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad), Peter Jeffrey (Count Grendel in some old Dr. Who episodes), and a host of other actors looking to chew some scenery and get done in by the good Dr. Phibes. Bizzaro soundtrack by various artists, including lots of organ music and Vincent singing “Over the Rainbow.”

Quote: “Nine killed you! Nine shall die! Nine eternities in DOOM!”

Alternate quote: “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.”

First viewing by Molly: Pretty recently

First viewing by Jesse: Really young

Most recent viewing by both: The aforementioned “pretty recently”

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Well, none, given that I’d never even heard of this weird little movie, but given that my early adolescence was largely me thinking The Phantom of the Opera was like, the single most amazingly romantic book evarrrrrrrr and why didn’t Christine go for the Phantom when he was clearly so much more interesting than that milquetoast nothing-master Raoul, I feel like I was a pump well-primed for this omgwtfbbq-fest, especially the bizarre Phibes/Vulnavia relationship.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. Of all the old horror movie icons, Price was my favorite, and of all his roles, this was perhaps the most important to Young Me.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: “WTF is this?”

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Excited. Price undeniably made some stinkers in his time, but I was confident that this film had aged like a fine Roquefort. I had no idea if Molly would love it or hate it, and, frankly, didn’t give a damn—nothing could possibly diminish the experience, though I of course hoped she would dig it. . . contrary to what this column might occasionally imply, I don’t actually enjoy punishing Molly with cinema.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Awesome. I really, really liked it, even though now, as an adult, I often find things that have a sort of Phantom of the Opera-ish sensibility about them to be pretty tiresome—obsession is really only sexy on the page or on the screen, a lesson I hope the legions of Twilight fans realize before they end up in problematic relationships with dudes who like to creep into the bedrooms of girls that smell real good and only have two emotional modes—constipated disapproval or condescending amusement.

N-E-WAYZ, I had my doubts during the opening sequence that has Dr. Phibes in a hooded robe playing an organ, but as the movie progressed into unapologetic insanity, I warmed to it, and then thoroughly enjoyed it. At the center of my affection was the Phibes-Vulnavia relationship, which is just so outright bizarre that it works perfectly without explanation. Wikipedia says that originally it was to be revealed that Vulnavia was one of Dr. Phibes’ clockwork creations, but I call bullshit on that, and I’m glad they left it undefined. For me, it’s a much more amazing scenario if Vulnavia is. . . just. . . some girl he met somehow? Who was totally OK hunting down and murdering doctors and nurses as long as Dr. Phibes kept her in furry hats and let her pose like a Mucha girl while he put on his gold lame cape and played music. Sure! Why not?

Good times.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Such exquisite film-making! Fitting tidily into the “Vincent Price whacks a bunch of people according to a theme” sub-genre of the great man’s career, I say, with only slight reservation, that this is the best of the bunch. Theatre of Blood makes it a tough call, as the murders in that film are all based on scenes from Shakespeare instead of biblical plagues, and it features a fencing match on trampolines, but Phibes still comes out ahead if no other reason than I saw it first and that has to count for something.

I suppose the main thing I had forgotten over the years was how bugfuck the movie really is—virtually no effort is put into explaining how Phibes manages to pull off his outlandish murders, let alone build a clockwork band and, maybe, girlfriend. . . he’s a doctor, sure, but a doctor of divinity and musicology (for serious). I suppose if they had started worrying about logic and realism they would have had to scrap the scene where fruitbats suck a guy’s blood, or the part with the locusts that. . . well, it really has to be seen to be believed, but the point is if reality intruded then all the fun would be gone and you’d be left with, I dunno, Se7en.*

The thing is, other than the poster and spoiler-heavy trailer, the movie seems to play it fairly straight-faced. Maybe? As a kid I certainly took it very seriously, yet rooted unreservedly for Phibes—he did what he did for love, after all, and is that so wrong? As an eight year old I had a hard time holding him accountable for his nefarious deeds, and as a twenty-eight year old I still refuse to pass judgment on the doctor.

It’s a bizarre, campy picture even by Price standards, and the script gives him ample room to do what he does best, even if he is talking out of his neck. It’s impossible not to root for Phibes, if only to see what insanely complicated murder he will pull off next, and I still get choked up thinking about what happens to poor Vulnavia. To say they don’t make them like this anymore is a bit of an understatement—gone are the days when studios would be like “this makes absolutely no sense, and doesn’t seem to be a comedy but definitely isn’t a horror film, either, and will use up a decent sized budget. . . but what the hell, go nuts—have your proto-slasher lead cover Judy Garland while you’re at it.” Alas.

High Points: Vincent Price doing what he does best. How straight everyone is playing it. The unsettling—and unaddressed—relationship between Phibes and Vulnavia. Vulnavia herself, and apparently we’re not the only ones to realize this—somebody out there on the internet not only recognized her importance, but also the importance of mistakenly attributing the Flashdance theme to Hall and Oates:

Final Verdict: Excellent.

Next week: Batman? This column needs an enema, so. . .

*Uninteresting Facts about Molly’s Youth: I’ve never seen Se7en all the way through because when I was in 8th grade or thereabouts, I had a friend who wanted me to see it, but she claimed most of the movie was “boring” and thus fast-forwarded her VHS copy to all the murders. So to this day, my only notion of that film is something along the lines of Brad Pitt being Angry (or something) at Keven Spacey for asploding a fat man and raping someone with a bizarre BDSM-inspired knife harness? Yeah.