This is the Night (and the Days!): TCM Classic Film Festival, Part II

Some people collect stamps. Others go in for Fabergé eggs. I seem to be one for collecting film viewings…on 35 or 16mm, preferably, and on the big screen (of course). Thus a film festival like the Turner Classic Film Festival is really and truly my venue. So after the amazing viewings I had already aggregated, I was ready, willing and able for more.

:::DAY 2:::

“You know there ain’t no forgetting…”—THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES

Saturday morning, bright and early, I grabbed some coffee and a breakfast sandwich from my local shop, and headed out to Hollywood Blvd on my bike once more, arriving just in time to grab my seat for This is the Night (1932). Directed by Frank Tuttle, this little pre-code gem was Cary Grant’s first picture and couldn’t have been more delightful if it had TRIED. Generally, if I have a passing thought during a film that keeps coming back, I will have that be my theme. The one I had for this picture? I haven’t laughed this hard since Animal House (1978). I happen to think that Animal House may well be one of the perfect films in the world so…this was a pretty high compliment. Literally, my sides were aching by the time the film was over. I have not enjoyed myself that much in the theater in ages.

This Is The Night was the first screening I went to that was TOTALLY sold out within a few minutes of me sitting down. It was CRAZY!

The acting was perfect, the construction and comic timing was just insanely smart, and I was left feeling remarkably depressed that there are literally dozens upon dozens of films that I have come across that use virtually the exact same story line with some of the identical gags and they are JUST not done as well. It was definitely a “good morning” to me. Not that this was news to me, of course, but a decent reminder. It instantly became one of my all-time favorite pre-code films and…when I say that I’m obsessed with pre-code films? I like pre-code films like bees like honey and scandal loves politicians.

In addition to the film, Foster Hirsch was there to conduct a Q&A with Cary Grant’s daughter, Jennifer (who is the spitting image of mom, Dyan Cannon with a bit of Cary thrown in…needless to say, she’s no slouch). Hirsch is a favorite of mine from way back due to his amazing noir writings and he’s a great guy for a Q&A. Smart, funny, and charming, he discussed things with Jennifer and let her tell interesting tidbits without prying. It was a good Q&A.

Then it was time. Time for what? Time to check one off the list. A notch on my cinematic bedpost. Part of my collection, as it were.

Last year, after seeing Eli Wallach do a Q&A for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  and then seeing the film in the big Chinese, I made a solemn swear to myself, right then and there, that I was going to do EVERYTHING in my power to see EVERY Clint Eastwood movie (primarily Westerns, but all the stuff I missed which is…well…most of the early stuff, to be 100% honest) in the theater. The Good, The Bad & the Ugly  made me cry because it was SO. DAMN. BEAUTIFUL. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful. It is film-making at its finest. The music, the visuals; it is a veritable ballet or symphony. With that in mind, the minute I saw that Josey Wales  was on the schedule, digital or not, I was going to see the film. And see it I did!

Once again, I met up with Dennis before the show began. I went inside the Chinese, and he came down with some friends and we all sat and chatted together about things we’d seen so far, and other assorted things. I remember thinking, GOD, I LOVE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL!! and then Ben Mankiewicz came up and introduced the film. He talked about how Josey didn’t quite have the popularity or recognition back when it was released that it has now. It was called a “Prarie Death Wish” and that it came out at slightly the wrong time, yet it made money. However, the most incontrovertibly interesting part of the entire introduction was Mankiewicz’s discussion of the author of the original Josey Wales material, Asa Carter.

The Outlaw Josey Wales, in the big Chinese?? THAT is the way that film was intended to be seen. SERIOUSLY.

Carter was not only a supporter of George Wallace, but he was kind enough to start his own section of the KKK. A few years later, he was on Oprah’s best-seller list. Due to the fact that he wrote under the name “Forrest Carter” and people are excruciatingly poor researchers, not to mention that they have zero memory, no one remembered the “Asa Carter” and only saw this fabulous piece of literature lauded by Oprah, The Education of Little Tree.

While I think that the literature is possibly quite good, I’m not sure it can override or forgive Asa’s personal activities. But they can be held in separate places, perhaps. I don’t know. I’d have to read Little Tree  first. In any case, this personal data about Asa Carter made me wonder about the film that Eastwood had created. Since I am always fascinated by adaptations, upon seeing Josey Wales I had to stop and wonder about the similarities and divergences. I found Mankiewicz’s discussion of the film’s genesis remarkably funny and revelatory, not to mention quite original as far as an introduction to a film was concerned.

The film itself was everything I could have asked for…and more. It was funny and generously beautiful. Eastwood was gracefully stolid to a fault, and the phrase that kept coming to my mind, over and over during the film was “character jambalaya.” Not having seen the film before, it was a joy and a pleasure to be able to witness what I did on a screen like the Chinese.

Josey Wales is like a really good chunky soup, like a jambalaya. It is chock full of substantial bits and pieces of things, sometimes the very same elements (the soup analogy would be carrots, meat, etc), and each time you dip your spoon in for more? You come up with a different combination. Sometimes you’ll get the same bits with each bite, but sometimes you’ll be missing the carrots or you’ll run out of meat (the film equivalent would be the dismissal of a certain character, through whatever means that character gets, well, dismissed). Needless to say, I loved it and am eagerly awaiting my next chance to fill in the spaces on my Clint Eastwood movie dance card.

Immediately upon the cessation of the film, Dennis and I had to leave to catch what was to become one of the hits of the festival: a little-known British war film called Went the Day Well? (1942). There were a large amount of reasons I wanted to see this film. As a film scholar and Viewing Collector, it was rare. Those were the first reasons. However, more importantly, as a burgeoning film archivist/preservationist, I felt insanely guilty over not going to Kevin Brownlow’s in-person panel over at the Roosevelt Hotel (I couldn’t!! I had to see Outlaw Josey Wales!!) and was bound by my own personal decree to hear him present this fine piece of celluloid. And WHAT a piece it was!!

Seeing Kevin Brownlow speak was inspirational. I have to say that growing up in Hollywood like I have, I have been lucky enough to come into contact with a great deal of extraordinary people. While I was impressed by each of those on a separate basis, seeing Kevin Brownlow speak was pretty awesome (in the true sense of the term, let us make Harlan Ellison happy). He is not only jovial and self-effacing, but incredibly entertaining and, from my perspective (hell, from any self-respecting film lover’s perspective), a substantial figure of pride for film preservation everywhere. Good grief, the man is the only guy in his field to have won an Oscar for what he does! Because of this status, I knew the film was also going to be special. I figured he wouldn’t talk in front of just any old film. I figured right.

Kevin Brownlow is a rockstar. SERIOUSLY.

I knew from the outset that it was going to be grim and gritty. I don’t think that anything that Graham Greene has had a hand in has ever not been at least a teensy bit brutal in that respect. And if you know me…well, you know I like brutal. So, I was VERY MUCH IN. Call me crazy or just an old-fashioned girl, but I’m a sucker for old school nihilism! And I got it. In spades.

This film was so good I very much considered going to see it when they screened it a second time on Sunday. But…so many films, so little time! It played INCREDIBLY well with an audience. Some of the best audience reactions I’ve heard in a very long time and by far the best audience reactions from the entire TCM Classic Film Festival. While it was indeed a packed house, a packed house does not always guarantee a reaction. The film must provide that. This film gave it to us hard and spared no one. Somehow this film sits squarely between the hips of  really messed up “home invasion” flick and war-time/patriotism-spy stuff. Went the Day almost invents its own damn genre.

I hesitate to truly describe anything about the film as I am deathly afraid of saying too much. The horrific aspects were enough to satisfy a gorehound like me, and the driving, pounding suspense was enough to drive even a Hitchcock junkie to nail-biting. Yep, this movie totally won.

On the way out, we ran into the always amazing, wonderful and lovely Michael Torgan, my long-time good friend and head of the New Beverly Cinema.

Film Fans Unite and Take Over!!

We all chatted for a bit and then all went our separate ways for a while, Dennis and I agreeing to meet back up for our next agreed feature. What can I say? The man has AMAZING taste and he’s more fun to hang out with and watch movies with than almost anyone I’ve ever hung out and watched movies with. Being TCM Classic Film Fest buddies with Dennis ruled!! I felt like the cool kid in school, man!

I believe that at this point we had run into my super great pal Peter, as well.  I had run into him several times during the festival, but due to Festival Craziness, I cannot for the life of me remember what movies it was between! However, I do know that he got to go and see Reds (1981) and he and I chatted about that for a while. He said the Q&A with Beatty and Baldwin was pretty epic!

After a short interim, I returned to the Chinese and the cinema for Pennies From Heaven (1981). I wanted to see this film for many reasons. Primarily because I had never seen it on a big-screen before and the Busby Berkeley-ness of it all made me want to know how that would go down…in color. Additionally, let’s get blatantly honest here- I wanted to see the Christopher Walken dance/striptease large and in-charge. He is such a magnificent dancer and on a big screen…I did want to see that play out. Those things said, I’m not certain that I made the right choice. This is the only film during the entirety of the festival that I feel a little badly about, due to the fact that another film was playing at the same time that I would’ve loved to have seen on a big screen-Niagara (1953). But… what can you do, right?

Why am I disappointed? Well, Pennies isn’t a bad film, per se. I just…don’t know. Somewhere it sits with me wrong. I think that perhaps that is where it has its glory? Perhaps its disjointedness and its dark mutilated humanity is where its beauty lies? I’m just not sure. It is an uncomfortable film. And perhaps I was just not entirely prepared for that after the smooth cinematic excursions I had been traveling on. In any case, I may do a further study on the film, but suffice to say that, while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t as wonderful an experience as I wanted it to be and I will take full responsibility as that may simply be my Terms of Viewership coming in.

But there’s room for one “off” film. Especially when the next film is as good as it was!!! When Dennis and I had been exchanging emails previous to the festival about our possible schedules, the one thing that we BOTH knew was where we were going to be Saturday night at 9:30pm. I sacrificed for this screening, man. Not only did I miss my friend’s birthday gathering for this, but that very same gathering was also partially a high school reunion full of people I actually wanted to see (I know- imagine that, if you will…hard to believe). Yeah, One, Two, Three (1961) was definitely a viewing that I needed to collect!

Michael Schlesinger introduced the film and he did it with style, candor and charisma. Indeed, his knowledge on Wilder and the film itself was impressive and extremely well-presented, both for Wilder-scholar and amateur alike. He branded One, Two, Three  as Wilder’s “testament movie” and discussed how, not unlike Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), this picture was almost a “greatest hits” piece as it seemed to gather all of his favorite filmic themes (men in drag, political commentary, sex humor, etc) together and put them within one narrative piece.

It was a bit of an understatement to say that I was thrilled. Indeed, our love (and excitement) for this film was so great that we sat there before the film started, deeply concerned about the masking. We knew, after all, that this was a ‘Scope movie, and it hadn’t yet been prepped  for that! I was a bit nervous! But, all fears were assuaged as the curtains gently rescinded from the screen, and Jimmy Cagney appeared, swift-talking and sharp as ever! What a gorgeous print it was too!!

Giggling like a school girl & occasionally looking at Dennis & the rest of the audience for their reactions (I get high off Billy Wilder Audience Reactions- it’s, like, my favorite drug) I blissfully made my way through that film and could’ve gone home a happy camper. Beyond happy, even.

But no. Not an option.

Not even close.

If I had missed The Mummy (1932) at the Egyptian Theater I would have been a flaming idiot. Thankfully, I did not because I’m a very smart young lady.

Tragically, the theater no longer looks the way it did when I was a child, which to me is always a little saddening. The walkway into the theater used to be lined on both sides with sarcophagi and I seem to remember being covered by a kind of tent-like overhang amongst the other sundry Egyptian decorations inside.

Egyptian, circa 1989. It was closed for "maintenance" around 1992, then Mother Nature decided to go further with the 1994 earthquake. It reopened as the American Cinematheque in 1998.

All of these things really made the entire journey into the cinema a true trip into some fantasy historic realm called ancient Egypt where…you could see movies?? Yeah, I don’t know. I loved it. It is entirely possible that I entered the land of Tutankhamun to see pretty much any of the 20th Century Fox films being released at the time, which meant I likely saw Spaceballs (1987), The Princess Bride (1987) and possibly Willow (1988) there, which rocks.

I know, I know. You guys were all watching Aliens (1986), Predator (1987), and Robocop (1987), but I didn’t get to be that cool yet.  I got that cool later. But hell- my memories of going to the Egyptian theater are like the Holy Grail to me. I wouldn’t part with them for the world. Not even having gotten to see Big Trouble in Little China (1986) before my folks would let me…well, maybe that one…!!!*

[*disclaimer: have no real idea if/how many of these flicks actually played the Egyptian, but, ya know, artistic license and all that!]

At any rate, back to the main event, right? I’m not complaining about what the place has now, as it’s an amazing theater and I go there every year for the Film Noir Festival and MANY other events, but…if you remember from part I of this saga, I do have that 13-year-old boy living somewhere inside me, and he thinks it would be really COOL to have mummies and themed stuff like that around as much as possible, especially on a night like that one at the TCM Film Fest when I was going to go see Boris Karloff do his thing!

I rushed over from the Chinese and was able to run into my friend Andy who had been working the event. Tired as he was, he said that there was no way that he was going to miss The Tingler from the previous night. So he got to tell me how cool it was and, essentially, how much I had missed. My William Castle-gene was feeling mighty depressed at that point, lemme tell you. Agreements have since been reached, but it was quite bitter at me for missing the event.  Looking at the time, I departed from Andy’s company, quickly locked up my bike, and ran inside, once again pouncing on a seat that was nice and close to the stage, as one of my favorite working actors (and crushes) today was presenting the film: Ron Perlman.

Perlman noted that Karloff's performance was nuanced and genre-transcendent, yet still said, "He complained about spending a lot of time in make-up? Eh. I've spent more!"

I love me some Perlman. Ohhhh boy, am I a sucker for him!  It helps considerably that I have an extremely healthy love affair with Hellboy (comic and film) and that Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a big ol’ place in my heart. Even so, Sons of Anarchy is a great TV show that has had people like Tim Hunter (River’s Edge) and Chris Collins (The Wire) work on it, so…not so shabby. In any case, Perlman was fantastic. He was relaxed (although I may be mistaking exhaustion for relaxation, but hey-splitting hairs, right?), intelligent and ever-so-elegant.

He did a little Mummy history lesson, harmonized with some Karloff critique, and then said “Hey! What’s up guys! Let’s watch this thing!” It was wonderful. Charming, friendly and enjoyable. There was also a real sense that he very much enjoyed the film even if he had only revisited it very recently.

So I settled into my seat, the film came on, and I realized exactly what The Mummy is, and laughed to myself with a glow of affection that I had never had before: it’s a horror film for archivists.

The last time I watched this film, I was simply a horror fan. There was not a preservationist bone in my body. Now? Well, the word “ridiculous” comes to mind. All I could think about was how the terminologies and methods used within the film were (more or less) on the mark, and I got the biggest thrill ever. You know when you see a film and due to the innate human tendency towards egotism you think “My god! This film is about ME!”? Well, that was me at midnight at the Egyptian. Should I discuss how the film was brilliant in the make-up or the historical sensibilities or…?

Screw it.

It was about archeologists who totally mess up, mishandle their preservational work and suffer the consequences!!! See what happens when you mess with the wrong shit? Yeah, that’s right. Uh-huh. SO GOOD. Ok, so this is an excruciatingly nerdy angle to take, but welcome to my world. I like a good beer, a great punk show, and to save 35mm film. Got a problem? Horror cinema is one of my favorite genres to discuss because it is so multi-faceted (to me). It shows one thing while it clearly talks about another. The Mummy is fun for me because it is a film that explores historical restoration and preservation and science in tandem with nostalgia and great emotion. As a budding archivist/preservationist, any film that figures in characters within that profession, be they living or dead, is pretty damn cool.

I’ve heard people say that they think Mummy  is relatively slow and boring. Well, I’m sure that most people wouldn’t want to catalogue that Scroll of Thoth, either, so I suppose that makes sense. I disagree. I think it’s a wonderful film. Karloff gives the film enough of a jolt that any “slowness” someone might experience is solved by his creepiness (and it is creepy! Make no mistake!!). Either way, I got more joy out of this than I had ever gotten before. It is totally subjective and fully personal and dorky as all get out, but that is just fine with me. While James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) will always be my favorite Universal horror film, this film, in one night, became my second-in-line.

:::DAY 3:::

“Good. Better. Best. Bested.” –WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

And then…as soon as it had begun, it was over. It was the last day. And I was a horrible mix of excited and depressed. Excited at the prospect of what my final choices on my final day were to be, horrifically depressed as I knew that it was all about to come crashing down on my head. No more full days of wall-to-wall film, running or biking from theater to theater on little-to-no sleep, bits and pieces of food (when there was 5 minutes or so) and a bucket full of coffee in my bag. No more terrific conversation with fabulous gay men from Baltimore or invitations from gentlemen asking me to dinner with his sister and himself complete with the all-important Elwood P. Dowd “business card”  accompanying the invite.

If this is confusing you at all, please see the film Harvey (1950). It will become much more clear at that juncture.

What would I do when this was all OVER??? I didn’t know, truthfully. So, as that gorgeous green-eyed dame said,I decided to “think about it tomorrow” and enjoy my final day!

My first film was something I was really enthusiastic about. If you don’t know who Ross Lipman is, you really should. He is an extremely brilliant gentleman and UCLA film archivist who specializes in some of the most unusual and cool stuff around. Not only has he worked on restoring some of Kenneth Anger’s work (already a big “hellllooo! You rock!” in my book) but his other work reaches levels in film preservation that are (in my mind) deeply necessary.

His interest in preserving and restoring the underrepresented and neglected areas/subjects of cinema is something that I am always deeply grateful for and, in this case, incredibly happy to see at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Lipman’s work, represented by such wonderful pieces as Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1981) (which he won an award for, incidentally), Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) , or the presentation for TCM’s festival, The Sid Saga- Parts 1, 2, 3 (mid-1980’s) is really important. I think if we didn’t have Ross around to grab some of this stuff and make sure it was nursed back to filmic health, we’d be a much sadder place. Plus, the added bonus? The films don’t suck!

So the films that he presented and the stories that went with them were almost unbelievable. The Sid Saga- Parts 1, 2, 3 (mid-1980’s) is created from a number of smaller films that a man made over his lifetime. I would say that he’s just like your grandfather, and perhaps he is…if your grandfather had done everything from carpentry and a Fuller Brush salesman to being a (literal) one-man-band and a rocket scientist. Then…he made films about all of it. With animation!! The funny thing? It was conducted with some of the most romantic life-honesty I’ve ever seen. For all intents and purposes, much of the evolution of these films serves as a love story to his wife, Adelaide, in a way that many documentary films simply cannot dream of negotiating.

On the preservation aspect,  damn I love Kodachrome. There will never be anything like that. Sid shot some absolutely incredible nature films that just yelled “Hey! It’s Kodachrome here! Do ya miss me yet?? Huh?? Do ya??” All I wanted to do was reach out my arms and cry out: “Yes! Come back! Please! We made a mistake!” But the films themselves looked phenomenal.

Lipman discussed that the preservation was fairly labor intensive, which seemed to make sense. Not only was there a veritable plethora of media to contend with (Sid used still photos, home movies, audio bits, newspaper clippings, animation sequences…the kitchen sink, maybe?) but some of the stock was fading and, while Sid had done all the editing work, he had never completed a full composite print!! Without getting too complicated, suffice to say that, while difficult, they were successful in their endeavors to complete a beautiful version of these films using all of the various sources that Sid provided them. It must’ve been work, but it certainly paid off in my eyes- literally.

I can only say this: if you possibly get a chance to see these (or really anything that Ross presents- he has excellent taste, and in addition to the stuff I said before, he’s a very entertaining speaker) please do. They will make you laugh, cry and entertain you in a way that most documentaries don’t and the vast majority of independent and experimental cinema can’t. In my eyes, there was more life and joy gushing from each frame of this piece than I have seen in quite some time. It was a wonderful experience to meet Sid through this film, and I am a better woman because of it.

I wish that I could tell you that I went and saw something BRAND SPANKING NEW right after The Sid Saga. But I totally didn’t. I totally went to This is the Night  again and laughed myself silly, and had a blast sitting next to Dennis as he laughed himself  to pieces, too. It was just as much fun the second time around. Man, I love that movie.

Bouncing from pre-code to pre-code, we left Night and went straight to the screening for Hoop-La (1933). I was so thrilled to see this on the bill again for Sunday with the people who had been presenting it before, as writer David Stenn is a fabulous historian on Jean Harlow and Clara Bow, and I had experienced the awe-inspiring coolness of MoMA film archivist Katie Trainor the first evening of the festival.

As the two began their intro to the film, I think Dennis must’ve thought I was a little crazy when I practically leaped out of my seat in pure, unadulterated excitement upon the discovery that this film was a Carnie Film. I have…a thing about freakshows, circus-life, carnivals, and their representations in cinema. I love anything having to do with that world. From Freaks (1932) and Nightmare Alley (1947) to Ghoulies II (1988), I love the carnival. So a pre-code with Clara Bow set in the circus world?? SIGN ME UP! And to be honest? Hoop-La was everything it claimed to be and more.

We were the second audience to ever see this print. The first audience had seen it a few days earlier. It originated from nitrate prints that Fox had given to MoMA that had been then blown up to 16mm and printed. The only other print in existence up until this point had been at the Cinematheque Francais, and it’s apparently not very good at all. But this print looked amazing. They clearly have put a good amount of love, time and energy on making this beautiful piece of history last.

Clara Bow was always breathtakingly gorgeous with a killer body to boot, but she has never looked as sexy and delicious as she does within the frames of this film. I felt extremely lucky to be one of the first audiences to get to see the premiere of this film’s restoration and to hear such wonderful scholarly discussion on the subject from Bow’s biographer and from the woman who made the final call and decision to select the film for preservation and restoration.

From Hoop-La to…Haskell- Wexler, that is! There was a break for a bit, but then it was time for the Final Film of the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival. There was really no question for me as to what it was going to be when it was announced: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) with Haskell Wexler in conversation with Leonard Maltin. Maltin may have an obsession with films being unnecessarily short, but he’s not the worst guy at a Q&A, and I was eager as hell to hear Wexler discuss…well, anything! Additionally, I had only seen this film once before in my life and all I remembered about it, as I laughingly related to Dennis, was that it’s a film that has “a lot of yelling in it.”

The discussion with Wexler was simple and fantastic. He is a tall and elegant man who is profoundly humble and seems almost unaware of how much of an impact he has had on other people. He went up to the table and sat down, answered a few questions, and then stated, “But I’m sure you didn’t come here to see me, so perhaps we should just watch the film…” The audience response was emphatic! Yells and clapping and people stating how much they had come just to see him speak. It was lovely.

He said it was his first studio film and he said that they wanted to fire him. He said that they told him that everything was “too dark.” I laughed when he said this. I laugh even more now, as I write this. Too dark? Virginia Woolf? Really, guys?

Wexler also said that while he may have gotten the Academy Award that year, he gave Nichols a percentage of the credit. “He knew more about filmmaking,” Wexler shrugged. He also said that in his acceptance speech, he appealed to the audience to be able to “use our art for peace and love” due to the fact that Vietnam was hot and heavy. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well in tandem with what he had won for- he got letters back from people who said, “Oh yeah? Use our art for peace and love? Like Virginia Woolf?”

So there we were. Ready to go into the final, final stretch. Sad, tired, and cinematically-fulfilled, but ready for Albee and the machine-gun-onslaught that is Burton/Taylor and company. Or were we ready? I’m not certain that I was. Things are different on a big screen. Things are also different with less sleep and less food, but I believe in this case it was Wexler’s photography in tandem with the large-screen presentation that made me as vulnerable as a small orphaned child.

Dear lord, that is a rough and brutally gorgeous movie. It has all the intensity of a river rafting trip gone suddenly wrong in the most desperate way. Yet that river? It’s still in the middle of nature and therefore breathtakingly beautiful. To be honest, for a good percentage of that screening, I’m not certain whether I was crying, breathing, or if I ever took my hands away from my face. The impact of that film on me was strong as hell and will probably remain so for the rest of my life.

There are certain big-screen viewings that you will remember forever. They become like lovers or family members in your life. I left that theater with a new addition to my circle, without a doubt.

As Dennis and I left the theater and prepared to say our goodbyes, we were approached by a fellow TCM festival go-er.

“Did you hear what happened???” She asked, clutching her friend, both of them shaking, eyes wild with a strange and uncomfortably odd kind of excitement.

Normally in this situation, approached by a random stranger, I would likely respond with something mildly smarmy about having been sitting in a movie theater for the last 10 hours. I was pretty drained. I looked at my compatriot to see if he registered anything/knew anything, but he seemed as blank as I.

“Bin Laden has been killed!” she continued, barely even waiting for our response, “Can you believe that? While we’ve been sitting in all of these films for hours and hours on end, the world has changed completely! And we didn’t even know it!”

Dennis and I looked at each other, stunned to our eye-teeth. I believe that we might have stuttered some kind of response to her, but really? What do you say to that? In any case, she seemed to want to alert the rest of the film festival, so off she ran, and we were left looking at each other.

“Well that certainly changes things, doesn’t it?” he said.

I nodded. It was definitely a “wow” moment.  We spent a few minutes considering the new information in tandem with the leftovers of Albee/Nichols/Wexler/et, al swirling about in our brains, and then we parted ways, him home to his family and me to the TCM Film Festival party.

When it comes down to it, all these weeks later, I have to think- did Bin Laden mean anything to me personally? Will his death personally effect me in the same daily way that seeing honor and relationships deconstructed in Becket did? In 20 years, will I be filled with some perverse joy  that a man who was a catalyst for others’ deaths was wiped out and will it feel as good as watching One, Two, Three or This is the Night? Somehow, I doubt it.

The world may have changed completely according to that woman, due to Bin Laden’s demise, but my life was changed completely by watching 16 films over the course of a few days, spending time with people of like-mind, and getting the rare opportunity to see some incredibly iconic figures discuss their work and creative intent. I’m pretty young still. But from what I have seen, I think that the real change will come when we start to look more at cultural objects as capable of change rather than people’s deaths.

I honestly don’t know how we will view Bin Laden’s death a few years from now. But do I think that people will still be talking about the latest film that they liked, whether it was The Hangover 8  or Nicholas Winding-Refn’s newest? Yes. Yes, I do. And as long as that doesn’t change, well…I’m A-ok.

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Silence=Death (to Feminism & Sexuality)

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to share a dinner table in Santa Barbara, California with many amazing women who were, like me, presenting at the Console-ing Passions conference. We had phenomenal discussion, some laughs, and great times. Over the weekend, I was incredibly impressed with many things, but that meal stood out in my mind as it drew me to some incredible panels and introduced me to intensely interesting new scholarship I was previously unaware of.

One of the primary figures at that meal was a woman named Tristan Taormino. Not only was she well-spoken and funny, but she was quick, smart and incredibly incisive when discussing issues in and around feminism and sexuality. I remember sitting across from her and thinking, “This is what a successful woman looks like.” It was a fabulous time, as right beside her sat another woman who I have greatly admired throughout my academic career, Constance Penley. Needless to say, the fact that I didn’t sound like a babbling idiot would have been enough for me, but we ended up having some very intriguing conversations on the projects that Taormino was working on and the state of the adult industry  in general. I learned quite a lot. I would like to think I contributed, but who knows?

Since then, I have followed Taormino’s career in earnest, having seen her presentation at the conference and found it to be like her: bold, intelligent, and necessary. While being a feminist does not mean that you have to be interested in pornographic content or the film work that she does, I feel that her work is incredibly helpful on many levels to many groups of people. She is sex-positive (refreshing in a world that seems to hate the body and sexuality so very much), and has made the attempt to use that in a very productive way to help others, through books, articles, and cinema. This is a very basic and shallow description of her, and I would ask you to inquire further into her career if it seems like something that would be of interest to you. Be warned, it is all adult-themed (not work-safe), but it is all worthwhile, as is she.

So why this article? Well, this morning I awoke to some rather disconcerting news. Taormino, who had been scheduled to be the key-note speaker at Oregon State University’s Modern Sex Conference, was “uninvited” due to her resume and website.

Um, excuse me? So, let me get this straight- you booked her, knowing full well what she does for a living (which extends so far beyond pornography it’s laughable), confirmed the date, agreed to fees, did all the business-y type stuff, then you looked at the resume and website? And, OSU, I hate to split hairs, but I looked at your Modern Sex Conference and…you have some panels there that seem decently risqué. So can you explain to me why you are tossing Tristan Taormino, former editor of On Our Backs, the nation’s longest running lesbian-produced lesbian magazine, a woman who has been on a multitude of television channels discussing sexuality, a woman who lectures at universities from the east to the west coast (ones WAY more highly regarded than you), and (not that this matters, but if a pedigree means something to you) the niece of Thomas Pynchon??

They said something about fearing that they would have the university’s budget cut as it was being used to support pornography. Um, ok. Interesting that Tristan’s response to the entire debacle was:

“I’m extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance. I’ve been protested before, but never uninvited. I have never misrepresented who I am or what I do. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make. The talk I planned to give at this conference, titled “Claiming Your Sexual Power” has nothing to do with porn, but the porn is such an easy target for anti-sex conservatives and censors. I find it ironic that one of the missions of the conference is to understand diverse perspectives of sexuality. Apparently, my perspective—one of educating and empowering people around their sexuality—isn’t welcome at OSU.”

I have two words for you Oregon State University: not cute. And actually I have one more word: CENSORSHIP.

See, here’s the really sticky part. And this is the part that got in my craw the worst. On Tristan’s twitterfeed today, she wrote:

“Several OSU staff have contacted me w/support but won’t support me publicly for fear of losing their jobs, they say.”

WOW. I don’t know about you, but that got me. As someone who got laid off from a job I liked, in a bad economy, I know how much a job means. So this is no joke. But I’m not going to mince words here: this is some fucked up shit. My gut reaction made me ill. Why? I didn’t know what I would do if I was in the position of one of those staff members. I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I realized that there was no way in the world that if I worked at OSU, I would ever pussyfoot my way around the situation.

What if this weren’t about sexually charged subject matter?

Would we allow censorship to take hold of us that hard that we would not stand up for ourselves and what we believe in? And if so, what will we become? I know that we have families, children, friends, lovers, pets, responsibilities. Hell, times are tough. But do tough times mean that we sell out each other? Some may say I cannot equate what happened today with Tristan Taormino/OSU to historic events like McCarthyism or Germany in WWII. And yes, it seems like hyperbole. Maybe it is. I haven’t eaten a lot today. But when I sit here, and think about the situation, it scares me. This is a mild situation. What if it were something larger?

The concept that fear overrides personal values frightens me. If every one of those staff members publicly came together in support of this women, they would not be afraid of losing their jobs. Yet, losing one’s job in this economy is a fate close to death it seems. Unemployment is an endless void that one does not want to fall into. “Keep that job at all costs,” the voice says, “even if it means sacrificing your own belief system.”

ROUGH.

In truth, the fact that they are not letting Tristan Taormino speak at a MODERN SEX CONFERENCE means that they are not so modern after all. Instead, she will be appearing at a place called She Bop in Portland, a female-friendly adult shop. Preaching to the converted, I guess, but at least still doing it.

If any of this bugs you the way it bugged me, please read this note from Tristan and respond in kind:

Note from Tristan:

Don’t Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU’s decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support —Tristan

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: larry.roper@oregonstate.edu

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
email: deanofstudents@oregonstate.edu
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
President
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133  (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: pres.office@oregonstate.edu

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Killer (Prom) Queen

So, pun intended, I suppose, let’s get something straight: I fully support gay rights, k?

But I am also a critical thinker and so when I see or read something that catches my eye and makes me think “Hrm, I dunno…” I gotta say something. Especially when no one else really seems to be doing so. In the Proposition 8 melee, we cannot afford to lose our critical thinking skills simply upon hearing about something that seems celebratory within the gay world, correct? If we do, then we become sheep and vegetables with opposable thumbs, clapping and saying “Hurray!” at anything that seems like it might be progress. Because, see, what if it really isn’t progress? And even morese, what if it isn’t progress in the way that we would like it to be? Kinda like a ballot measure that hides its true intentions underneath a whole lot of political mumbo jumbo and gobbledy-gook that the average person cannot understand, some things really need to be looked at under a much higher lensed microscope.

That said, I’m not saying that this issue is evil or like one of those measure. FAR from it. It is a very simple everyday type thing. However, the way I see it, it should be at least gazed at a bit closer due to the simple fact that it IS such a simple local “nothing” issue.

So I opened up my Facebook today, and I noticed that a few of my friends were posting this article about Sergio Garcia, a Senior at Fairfax High School. Apparently, this young man was just crowned “Prom Queen.” Um, OK, no big. Kinda cool, right? I went there, I know what that school was like when I was there, so I was excited in a way to have this occur. So I posted it. But….I took it down within 2-3 minutes.

Houston, we have a problem.

Should’ve been fine. Should’ve been great. Should’ve been able to just add this to the list of the pro-gay equality stuff that I post on the ol’ social networking stuff. Except…I couldn’t. Whether it was due to the writers or due to his own speech decisions, what was within the article made it impossible for me to get behind this issue. As a woman and as a woman who has been a significant gay-rights advocate for her whole life. See, the byline underneath his picture in the LA Times quotes him as saying, that he “felt invincible after beating out the female candidates.” OUCH. Then, to add to that, within the article he states that he doesn’t want to be a girl, reiterates that he will not be wearing a dress, and that the whole thing began as a “stunt or a challenge.”

promqueen

Perhaps if they had not postured the entire thing as Sergio having “beaten out” the female candidates. And perhaps he was misquoted. But I bristled a bit. I really did. I asked myself, “Would a woman have been able to run for prom king?” And………..I got a resounding NO WAY, JOSE. So, I ask you, is this progress? I suppose it is in a way, but most of us recognize that the younger generation really could care *less* about sexuality. It’s even stated in the article.

See, there’s also this historical dilemma about women and the gay community, too. When the AIDS crisis was at its height, an incredible amount of women’s health groups and lesbian groups supported this issue, marched and helped out, even though it wasn’t even “their issue” at the time. In countless documentaries that I have seen, and people I have spoken with, these same women have expressed a sad sentiment that they do not feel or have that same support from the male gay community. (*disclaimer: this is not meant to be a statement about all gay men, btw*) As a woman who can (and has) go to (male) gay leather bars and usually exchange phone numbers sometimes more often than in a straight bar, I very clearly have a wonderful relationship with the male gay world. However, there is a certain misogyny that exists. There is a prejudice against men that exists within certain areas of the lesbian community, as well, I have seen that too, but…in a world that already predicates itself in a manner that does not necessarily favor those of the XY-chromosome persuasion…..well? It can be tough.

At any rate, back to prom, right? Look, I’m excited for this kid. He made headway in something that made him feel proud and happy, he feels like he did good for his gay community and made strides or whatnot, and I do support him in his struggles. He’s a latino kid in LA who is openly gay and proud, which is problematic in and of itself. I mean, his homelife can’t necessarily have been a picnic, right? Add gay archetypes to the mix and, well, we have something else entirely. In this way, I believe that Sergio is taking it to the next level. Applying an aspect of gay culture to high school culture, in a way, enmeshing the two into one. However, I do not believe that this is a necessity nor do I believe that it is a positive or a progressive stance to take, for women or for men. In fact, I feel it is quite self-centered and selfish. However, as we all know, high school kids are some of the most self-centered people in the universe so this is no big surprise. But it is by no means a malicious act, and I do want to be clear about that as well.

The issue comes from not thinking ahead and not listening to his peers and not thinking about what the effects of this act could be. Sure, it’s cute enough, have a prom “queen.” But the LA Times positioned it poorly- they (whether he intended it or not) made it sound like he was quite pleased to have won over the girls, which sounded pretty nasty to me, although not to the immediate reader, still reeling from Prop 8’s fucked up repeat beatdown the other day. Most everyone these days is looking for something-anything-positive to hear/post/know about how people are reacting to the gay world. But the problem is, this isn’t the thing. And we really need to take a closer look at what would have made a real difference.

Wouldn’t it have been more effective to have him be the prom king and come with his male date? Wouldn’t that be more of a fuck you in the face of the masculine-defined idea of “prom king” a la films like Carrie? He states that he does not want to be a girl and that he’s a boy with a “different personality.” So how does “different personality” all of a sudden equal prom queen? He’s not a tranny, nor does he express the desire to be one, he seems to be quite secure in being a gay male of the most average variety. What was wrong with running for prom king?

I’m just not sure how to place this one. And to an extent, writing this makes me feel like I’m a hater, which I know, full well, that I am not. I know that this is a messy and tricky situation that puts women in a precarious situation where they get to play second fiddle. And while I do love my gay boys something fierce, I think I’d be pretty pissed if a guy won for prom queen and I was running and had a chance to win. ESPECIALLY if they were initially just doing it for a lark, and then the idea got unintentional momentum.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that this situation is quite a bit more complicated than just posting the article on Facebook. I couldn’t do it. It is not 100% celebratory for me. I support, but I question. It may simply be prom, but hey- prom means a great deal to a lot of folks. Look at Carrie. That’s a perfect example of how that event can be so momentous in one person’s life. Also good example of why you should treat people better in high school, but that’s a WHOLE different blog.

While I congratulate you Sergio, I would ask you to take a closer look at what your royalty has actually given you. Publicity, sure, yup. You got your 15 minutes. But where does it go from there? Please think about what equal rights means, not to mention the progression of archetypes and stereotypes. Is a “queen” what you wish to represent? Is that who you are? Is that what you are? Does that actually do much for the positive progress of the gay community, let alone this marvelous program that you seem to have been a part of at your school?

As for me, I find it disappointing and disheartening. Until the day comes when we can have a prom king who is a female, I think the idea of a prom queen who is male and does not consider himself to be transgendered is a bit more than frustrating and a bit head-shakingly irritating, to be perfectly honest. And accompanying that is the passion and fervor with which people seem to overlook these issues in favor of positive stories about gay issues. Hey! Newsflash! Positive stuff happens all the time and always has! Even before Prop 8! Hard to believe, I know, but true. Either way, keeping your eyes on the prize also means keeping your eye on the ball and staying critical. So long as we do that, we should be fine. For now, I hope the young man enjoys his tiara.

Yet one more reason to LOVE Austin, TX (and especially the folk that reside there…)

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Yes, this sign really did happen. Wanna know how? Wanna know more? It’s all here, including a FREE Guide to the Undead!! BONUS!!!