Saturday, August 1, 2009

Saturday Morning Amuse Bouche

Blatently stolen from Saint Superman, because I am too excited to go thrift-shopping with my girlfriends today to go scour the internets for something amusing, when this amusing thing has already been found for me. Y'all, Craig Ferguson (whom I will probably marry) has figured it out:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Heroine Writes The Obligatory Twilight Post. You Probably Won't Like It

Last year, I read an article which announced that the Harry Potter books had been supplanted by the vampire-romance saga, Twilight. Teen girls and their mums both loved it, and the soon-to-be-released movie was sure to be a major hit. After I read that I thought, "What should I make for lunch tomorrow?"

Then the movie came out and all the ladies in my office took the day off to go with their daughters to the matinee, while admitting that they too were super excited to see this vampire Edward Cullen. And in my head I wondered, "Hmmm, would I look as cute if I bobbed my hair?"

That weekend, I checked Facebook, and almost every single female friend had a status in all caps like this, "OMG!!! EDWARD CULLEN IS THE HOTTEST! I LOVE HIM. NO MAN CAN COMPARE!" At which point Twilight finally forced it's way into my consciousness. It seemed this was not just a book about moody teenage vampires in love. Grownups, real grownups, were flipping out about these books. They must be awesome, I couldn't believe I'd missed them, and I suddenly wanted badly to see the movie.

So I went to see Twilight. And it was bad. I mean really, really bad. Laugh out loud bad. You know what it was about? Moody teenage vampires in love. Here's a piece of dialogue that made me guffaw (spoken by the heroine, Bella Swan):
"About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was part of him — and I didn’t know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."
Hoo boy. The whole audience (all grownups) groaned and laughed. But that's not even my point! My point, is that I went to work the next day or whenever, and told my coworkers that I'd hated the movie. And everyone said, "Oh, you have to read the books." Then, I saw my cousins and told them the same thing and they said, "Oh, you have to read the books." So, ladies and gentlemen, I went and read the books, and you know what? They're still about moody teenage vampires in werewolves.

I'm creepy and possessive, but it's sexy because I'm also a vampire

I really disliked these books. In fact, these books made me sad for girls everywhere. And it feels so weird to write that, because everyone else thinks they are the greatest.

It's not about the quality of the writing. I'm not the sort of snob who can't enjoy a great story unless the language rises to the poetry of The Iliad, it's the crux of the story itself, this ridiculous love affair between two of the most sullen teenagers evah. Their love for each other isn't really love. It's obsession. Worse, it's teenage obsession, and yet we're supposed to take it seriously - as some sort of romantic blueprint - and people do. Edward and Bella can't function or live without the other (literally. Edward tries to commit suicide when he thinks Bella's dead), and it's suggested that they actually have a biological need for one another because of Bella's blood? or something? I'm not sure, though it's clear whatever their connection it's supposed to be super romantic. Neither of them have any friends, nor do they wish to have friends. They have no hobbies, nor do they wish to have hobbies. They spend all their time together. They are each other's god. Before they begin dating, Edward follows Bella around unbeknownst to her, watching her sleep through her window. In real life that is called stalking. In the book it is called love.

The second book (New Moon) makes references to Romeo & Juliet, and draws frank parallels between the two couples. Yes, I get it, Romeo and Juliet were also teenagers and star-crossed lovers, and they are Western Civ's great romance, but I will never forget Professor Ray talking about them in college, and how they could only be so passionate and over- the-top because they never had to slog out the day-to-day drudgery of love. Since they practically die on their honeymoon, they never experience love as a duty, as an act of the will that one performs when the fire in the heart burns low. I think Professor Ray said specifically, "What would Romeo and Juliet have been like arguing over who takes out the trash out after dinner?"

And that's my problem. Edward/Bella love is not real love and never can be. Yet two people, two adults whom I know have told me this book made them discontented with their marriages, since their spouse will never measure up to Edward Cullen. Which, do I even have to say it? He's a vampire. You are comparing your mate to a mythical, undead, immortal being with magical powers, and you feel sad that your man can't measure up? But also, in an odd way, I get it. I get how Edward's strength, his protectiveness, his devotion and his chastity appeal to women of all ages, especially in these unchivalrous times. But still, let's get real about vampire love, ok?

Jacob Black, on the other hand, is a whole other story. If I cared enough to get invested in these books (which I don't), I would say that Bella was incredibly stupid to choose Edward over a perfectly fetching werewolf...

Our Heroine would be on Team Jacob if she were on a team, which she is not.

...who loves her in a much more normal way. But as it is, I'm an adult, and I'm going to go do something mature, like watch Gossip Girl on DVD.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our Heroine Misses The Entitled English Aristocrat of Yesteryear

"Ce grand diable de milord anglais"

That's John Singer Sargent's portrait of Lord Ribblesdale above. Isn't it grand? Does he not perfectly epitomize a bygone era of arrogant English noblemen? Our Heroine is an American and a democratic republican, but I still lament we shall not see this type again.

And I do so love this quote of his Lordship's regarding the portrait. When one is already so great, I s'pose any additional greatness thrust on you just becomes burdensome.
"My picture here looks exceedingly well, and I am assured is regarded as the great feature of the Exhibition. It has forced a greatness on me which is quite embarrassing; and wherever I go, I am recognized and much chuchotement and pointing out to friends goes on. At the vernissage, which I just dropped in for, it was really tiresome; and several people - but all I think artists - have introduced themselves to me, on the plea of not being able to resist offering their congratulations."
I'm sorry y'all, I'm not sure why, but I am feeling very in love with the Victorians these days, and I'm dragging all of you down Fin de Si├Ęcle Lane with me.

But I promise that tomorrow I will firmly plant myself in the present day to tell you why I hate Twilight. Gah! It's just the worst. Lord Ribblesdale would have loathed it.

Our Heroine Defends Victorians From The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Hollywood

Do you people remember that trio of lovely period films that starred Anthony Hopkins in the mid-90's? They were Remains of the Day, Howards End and Shadowlands. (tangent: I saw Shadowlands in the theater, and I cried so hard and loud that people got up and left my row. Not strangers, mind you, but my FRIENDS. I was that embarrassing.)

Anyhoo, those were some lovely films, and I was feeling nostalgic for that time period and those films, so I rewatched Howards End this weekend with my brother and something struck me watching it now that I was too green to notice years ago, which is how unfair the film is to Henry Wilcox and his family.

I've never read the E.M Forster novel on which the movie is based, but I assume the theme is the same as it is in the film: the conflict between Victorianism and Modernity, as the former gave way to the latter at the turn of the century. In the movie, the Wilcoxes represent the Victorians (whose time has passed) and the Schlegels represent Modernity (whose time is now). And really, I think the treatment of the Wilcoxes in the film is shameful. The Victorians had their weaknesses, as every generation does, and I am aware of what they were - but really Merchant-Ivory? Henry Wilcox's family is composed entirely of materialistic troglodytes of little honor and no graces. But of course - of course - the Schlegels are virtually perfect: humanistic, philosophical, clever and stylish. Tibby Schlegel, the Oxford-intellectual, is so wrapped up in the life of the mind that he barely realizes he has two sisters, but of course that's portrayed as only mildy vexing, and mainly charming. That's because in the film, being an intellectual is the highest virtue. However Charles Wilcox, the eldest Wilcox son, having a real talent for business, is selfish, petty and obnoxious, because being a businessman is analogous to being an Orc.

Just your average Victorian businessman.

I found the great climax scene particularly frustrating this time around. In this scene, Helen Schlegel, pregnant outside marriage, has requested she be allowed to spend the night at Howards End (the Wilcox home) before departing for Germany. Margaret, now married to Henry Wilcox, makes this request on her sister's behalf, and is refused. She makes an empassioned plea to her husband to show Helen mercy, but he will not budge.

Now, it is not that I think Henry Wilcox is in the right. He is in the wrong. But his refusal is painted as the worst possible sin (to a modern): sexual hypocrisy. Henry has had a mistress, yet he does not forgive Helen her lover.

But he is not hypocritical! He is not disowning Helen for her transgression, nor is he turning a pregnant woman out into the wilderness to starve. He makes clear to Margaret that he and Charles intend to make her seducer marry her (which we may laugh at now, but was a very honorable action for two men to take who are not Helen's blood relations) and if he is already married, to make him take responsibility for her in other ways. Henry also makes clear that he will care for Helen financially, and is willing to pay for her to stay at a hotel until she decides to leave for Germany. It is merely Howards End that is forbidden to her, and he finds her attachment to the place odd, as it is not her home and never has been. Yes, Henry himself had a mistress, but that was in Cyprus, where his transgressions affected no one's reputation. He worries only that allowing Helen to stay at Howard's End will damage his son's family in the neighborhood, and while I disagree (as does Margaret) it's not mere sexual hypocrisy that motivates him.

Perhaps I am wrong, here is the clip of that climactic scene, watch it and tell me what you think:

Was he so very wicked? Margaret thinks so, because she decides that her husband is now too, too dreadful and determines to leave him -- not displaying the teensiest bit of committment or forgiveness or empathy, despite her much-lauded humanism.

Now, I know this conflict was rather a common theme in the early 1900's. I've read Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, Ford's The Good Soldier, and Wharton's Age of Innocence which all deal with similar ideas. But those novels were not nearly so one-sided or dismissive of the Victorians as Merchant-Ivory are. Look, I think the break between the 19th and 20th century must have been something quite extraordinary. People with fine observation skills seem to have recognized at the time that a fundamental shift was underway, and a new type of man existed who had never existed before. How must the Victorians have felt, what was left of them, unprepared as they were for what constituted Modernity? (I think of poor Soames Forsyte, trying desperately to please his Modern wife in his Victorian way, and only succeeding in increasing her disgust of him.) I love to read about it, but Merchant-Ivory do not play fair.

It's like The Family Stone, (UGH!!!!) only with corsets and tophats.

So that's my beef with Howards End all these years later. However, the proposal scene is just as romantic as ever! Here's Henry, asking Miss Margaret Schlegel to marry him, with all the difficulty that a proper Victorian gentleman of great chivalry experiences when asking a fine young lady to share his life.

Oh, and all the ladies have such great hair and dresses, so the film definitely still has that in it's favor!

Our Heroine, After Much Soul-Searching, Has Decided To Convert...

...from Dunkin Donuts to MacDonalds coffee. This decision will shock you all, enfuriate some, and delight others, but I must assure you, it was not a decision I made lightly, in fact, I have been considering this conversion for many months in my secret heart.

As I sit typing this, I am sipping on a steaming hot cup of McD's coffee, and I must confess it was this very thing - the consistent steaming hotness of their coffee - that first began to lure me away from the coffee of my youth, which is pretty spotty about temperature.

The other thing that played a role was the influence of my brother's father-in-law, a man I greatly respect in all things, but especially in matters of coffee (he brews an amazing cup), who told me several months ago that he had converted from DD to McD and had no regrets, except for the fact that McD's smells like grease and ground beef so he can't sit and read the paper there in the morning. But we agreed this was a minor theological point.

Finally, my travels within Spain played a role, as the people of this great country introduced me to cafe con leche, a drink which I promptly adored and began brewing at home, and which, over time, has gradually changed my palate to prefer a bolder coffee taste.

So that is it, good friends, I am a McDonaldsite now. I appreciate everyone who has stuck by me during this difficult time, and I will remember you all as I embark on this next, exciting phase of my coffee drinking life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Which Our Heroine Discovers a Philosophical Contradiction in Terms

Look, y'all, I attach this link under protest, in the interest of free speech, because on a metaphysical level, I don't believe that a movie about dinosaurs can ever be bad. I think it's a proven scientific axiom that the presence of "dinosaurs" in a movie is an imperative that precludes "bad" from also being present. But, what can I say, the Smithsonian disagrees with me, and provides this cautionary list.

The Five Worst Dinosaur Movies of All Time

Here's an example of their thinking:

Carnosaur III: [snip] An American special ops team is sent in to clean up, but since the dinosaurs are said to be indestructible (the reason why is never made clear), the remainder of the film mostly involves soldiers being shredded by dinosaur puppets. The director left things open for a fourth installment, but mercifully the series was left to wither.

What? I don't see the problem here. Indestructible dinosaurs, the result of a black-ops experiment, are on a rampage? How could that be bad? It's actually pretty prescient, if you ask me (you did not ask me). Whatever, go and read it yourself and see what you think. I have made my opinion clear.

HOWEVER, someone in the comments suggests that something called Raptor Island should be on the list. How is this possible? Who would be so foolish? People, I've said it before and will say it again, RAPTORS CAN OPEN DOORS AND THEY WILL NOT BE MOCKED.

Our Heroine Laments They Are Going to Ruin My Sparkly

No,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no! No, Hollywood, no. Please don't ruin The Secret of Nimh. PLEASE. I beg you. It's already been done and it's perfect. There is no need to gild the lily. Please! Justin the Rat was my first boyfriend hero. If you ruin him I will die a little on the inside.

And I know the movie was based on an even older book, and that it wasn't 100% faithful to the original story and it's themes. But it was still great! Furthermore, I am also aware that there is a very, very slim chance that the new version might be even more respectful and more faithful to the original work, and manage to be both different from the 1982 movie, and yet still awesome.

But you and I both know that it will likely be "CGI kiddie-trash," a phrase I stole from the comments over at Videogum.

"We can no longer live as rats. We know too much."

via Videogum (which has really been a source of both inspiration and dismay for me today)

In Which Our Heroine Allows You To Follow Her Train of Thoughts, Leading from Gibson Girl Hair to a WWI Bleg, As Is So Often The Case

1) Today, over my morning coffee, I read the weekly "Worst Movie of All Time" review on Videogum. This week's movie was The Road to Wellville, which takes place at the turn of the 20th century (one of my favorite fashion periods).

2) After watching the accompanying clip, I thought to myself, "Bridget Fonda had really pretty red hair in that movie." (see right)

3) Pondering further her pretty red hair, I thought to myself, "I've seen her real hair. It's pin straight. Did she wear a wig? Otherwise, I wonder how did her hair get so gloriously big and wavy?"

4) I then thought to myself this was the same question I used to have about Megan Follows' hair in Anne of Avonlea, which was also very pretty and red (see below, and I've made sure Gilbert is in the shot for the ladies):

5) Then I thought to myself how it was a shame I am too old now to read and enjoy the Anne books as I did in high school, and I wondered if I would perhaps like rereading Anne of Ingleside, which takes place later in Anne's life, (closer to my age) when she has been married to Gilbert Blythe (!) for many years.

6) Then I thought to myself how I appreciated that L.M. Montgomery included tragedy in Anne's later life. How it made the books (and Anne) more real for me, and less like fairytales set in Canada. I recalled that Anne lost her first baby, Joy, and how she is described as never being the same after that.

7) Oh, but then, still thinking about those books, I said to myself, "Something else sad happens to her, but what was it? Oh, right, now I remember, in a later book, she loses her son Walter in the First World War."

8) THEN I got to thinking about Walter, the handsome, dreamy, poet son of Anne, and how tragic it was that he was the son who was afraid to go to war (unlike Jem and Shirley, her other sons who enlist right away), who delayed and delayed enlisting, but finally did enlist, and died doing something spectacularly brave and heroic.

9) Which finally got me off the books, and got me thinking about World War I, and how I'd been told somewhere (I think in a lecture of Professor Evans, talking about P.G. Wodehouse) that somehow, something about the pointlessness and brutality of that war broke the souls of the people who survived it, and how we have inherited the fruits of that brokenness.

10) That got me considering World War II, and how World War I must have been very different, because no one says World War II was pointless, even though it was brutal.

11) Then I thought to myself that I'd also read somewhere that World War II was a direct result of the Europe that World War I created. If we'd avoided the First World War, we need never have fought the Second World War.

12) Then I thought, "I know we fought the Germans in World War I, but somehow I know it was different, I don't think they were bent on world-domination likethey were under Hitler. And somehow Serbia was involved?" I couldn't really remember anything about it except it involved trenches, mustard gas, and someplace called Ypres.

13) Then I was deeply ashamed, my ignorance betraying a shocking ingratitude to the brave men who fought in that war.

14) So I determined then - and am still determined - to read a book about it.

15) But then I remembered I don't know any books about WWI that are well researched, informative, not driven by ideology, and also engaging (actually I don't know any books about WWI at all.). SO, I thought I would write this all out on my blog and maybe Little Brother or Frank or Dad or BMT or SLB or someone would have a recommendation.

So, y'all, if anyone has a recommendation for a good, non-fiction account of the roots and causes of World War One, the course of the war itself, and/or the aftermath and results of the war, I am all ears. Please keep in mind I am a fiction reader usually, so I'd prefer something written to be engaging for the girl who is just dipping her toe in, something like what Shelby Foote would have written if he hadn't been busy being awesome about the Civil War.

Many thanks!