Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Welcome, Foolish Mortals!

...on the other hand, I thought The Haunted Mansion was AMAZING.

Which just goes to show how far expectations and the reasons why you see a film influence your feelings.

Full disclaimer - oh boy, do I love that ride! I dream about it. All the time. Last month, I almost signed up to go work at Disney just to be closer. Instead, I chose to buy this film - this awful, awful film - to sate the addiction for just a little longer.

It cost me 0.01p. One careful previous owner (who hadn't thrown it across the room in disgust)

So. The script is very disappointing - much in need of some proper jokes. The two funny house-servants weren't funny. The kids were totally undercharacterised. But apart from that, it wasn't so bad.

I guess its failure comes from the ride itself. The concept behind the Pirates of the Carribbean is "THERE ARE PIRATES!". Within that framework, Elliot and Rossio wove a wide (and witty) story, taking the odd stopoff for Tortuga or a dog with a key, but mostly using the ride simply for tone. I don't know it so well, but I warrant there weren't nearly as many references. Jack, Elizabeth and the Other One are characters invented; so is Barbossa, the monkey, and the haunted gold. They've taken the concept of "piraty things" and expanded it into a story.

Mansion movie is too much like the ride - the house remains the main character, and the film merely serves to give you the guided tour. No wonder Murphy plays a real estate agent. Like Pirates, it has no clear canon or tale - simply a jumble of creepies. Unlike Pirates, though, fanboys have assembled it into stories - it is the fanboys, for example, who took the name Master Gracey off a headstone, made him the portrait in the foyer, and then the master of the house. And unlike Pirates, the writers have taken those stories and tried to make them into plot.

I'm kinda surprised the Mansion-fans hated it. Oh look, the brides chamber! The coffin conservatory! The breathing doors! The Doombuggy approach makes it a very bad film indeed, as the characters shuffle through to show off the next archetectural wonder. But if you're watching cus you can't afford a Magic Kingdom season pass? Next best thing. It's even better if you play it with other Mansion nerds (if you can get them out of their basements) and keep score of trivia. Did you know that the red couch was originally in Disney's 54' 20000 Leagues Under the Sea?

In fact, imdb has a whole list:
  • the singing busts
  • the breathing door (even the doorknob is the same) (wow! fancy that!)
  • Madame Leota (and the spectral instruments)
  • the busts that follow Jim
  • the ghostly carriage (a prop outside the ride)
  • the old man and the dog in the cemetery
  • Master Gracy's hanging (oh, but I thought that was the narrator and not Gracey! Oh woes!)
  • the ghostly ballroom dancers
  • the Raven seen throughout the movie (which - bonus points! - was part of the original concept for the Mansion...)
  • the hitchhiking ghosts
  • the hangman
  • the eyes in some of the walls
  • morphing pictures in the hallway
  • several lines throughout the movie that are also used in the ride's narration, such as: "Welcome, foolish mortals", "Final arrangements have been made", "There's always my way"
  • the floating candelabra in the credits
  • the bride's dress in the attic
  • the screeching cat sound effect in graveyard scene (Whoah, I just lost nerd points! I didn't notice this at all! Also, what bloody screeching cat? Who rides the Mansion so seriously that they can identify a screeching cat? I never heard it!)
  • the skeleton's hands that start to open coffin in the mausoleum
  • the knights in the hallway attacking Jim
  • the door knockers heard rapping in the bedroom hallway
  • the pipe-organ in the ballroom
  • the clock strikes 13 during the prologue
They forgot to mention the help's costume design. And so on...

What it might hold for someone unable to squeal "oooh, the original Mark Davis concept art!", I don't know. 'Cus honestly, the hitchhiking ghosts aren't very funny if you don't go "the hitchiking ghosts!" Madame Leota is simultaneously under-exposed herself and over-provides exposition for others in what looks like a big narrative misstep - if you're not going "Madame Leota!" And WTF are there dancing instruments in her room?

On the other hand, if you're a Mansion fan there are only three serious complaints to make:
  • no stretching gallery?
  • no decent image of the iconic eye wallpaper?
  • not coherent with my personal mythology!
and if you really want to earn a slap from your fellow mortals (of the non-foolish variety):
  • no Hatbox Ghost!
There's more than enough eye-candy to keep ones critical faculties dimmed, and I passed a gleeful hour and a half watching it.

What did I want? That atmosphere. That moment when you step from Florida heat into a chill-cold parlour, and the sticky children and Mickey-tat are entirely left behind. Time spent absorbing the atmosphere. Watching out for new gags, new surprises. This? The film delivers in spades. I wanted my ride. I got it.

And if you're not a fan but you do like pretty, then oh! Costumes! Sets! Particularly sets! Some poor makeup though. And there is a good story in there, somewhere, even if you do need to work hard to find it. I'm a sucker for the central romance - I thought Mrs Evers one of the better characters. Loved Gracey and Ramsley. Why couldn't we have had more of those three, instead of kidnapping one for ages and mostly ignoring the other too. Although I'll be buried if that ending made any sense...are we meant to believe that, during eternity, Gracey never came across the letter? I know the building is big but still! True, he's depressed. Still! There are nine hundred and ninety seven other grim, grinning ghouls in there which might concieveably have ended up there too. Here's a better idea. Cus Ramsely is a poorass murderer if he's going to keep evidence in the victim's own house. Frankly he deserves to get caught.

I wonder whether Evers put "Deus Ex Fireplace" on the property listing?

Did love Ramsley, though, creepy old Terence Stamp! Fantastic character - the traditional Brit butler is a little dead, if only on the inside. And Master Gracey too, all emotion and Englishness and looking damn fine in a suit. "Was my crime to fall in love?" Aaaaaaaw.

Oh, I would have rewritten it in so many ways! What if Sara decided she loved Gracey, or had remembered being Elizabeth? That would have been good. I had so much more invested in that romance than the other. I wanted more of why the Graceys were in America. More of the interrelations between the ghosts - they've all been trapped their since the 18somethings, just because the Master couldn't get his act together. What intrigues and politics that would produce! More ghosts in general: the house seemed so empty in those huge rooms, and not in an "isolated!" way. In an "we could only afford eight actors" way. 999 ghosts, remember? That's lots.

And Eddie Murphey was - not-terrible. Had expected the worst. In fact, he just did the best with the material and, given that we've seen the Workaholic Father a billion times before, produced a rounded and solid performance. Not special, but I put that down to the script. No one had anything to work with.

But what I really want to know is....was Elizabeth's music box, with the mirror and spinning maquettes, a tribute to the Pepper's Ghost ballroom? I'll get my coat. Oh Lord, I want to watch it again. Bring on the del Toro reboot, and quick!

Do The Right Thing

Cinecism is having one of those wonderful mornings when you're having a good sort out, and you suddenly finda copy of Do the Right Thing that you'd entirely forgotten purchasing. For a mere £3 at that!

'Twas curious. Clearly a debut, I loved the rule-breaking style - the totally unexpected dance-credit sequence, the colours, the close-up racist tirades. But I obviously missed something - perhaps I'm just 22 years too late. I felt like it used to be ground-breaking

It felt like a movie with a message, but it's not entirely clear what that message was. The ambivalence was underlined by first the photos, then the quotes of Martin Luther King and Malcom X. Two figures I do not know in detail, but I know that broadly MLK represented peaceful resistance, and MX advocated violence.

We're not meant to sympathise with John Tuturro or the cops, I guess. But what are we to make of Mookie? He's our touchstone character, and one that seemingly gets on with everyone in the neighbourhood, and yet I didn't see the character progression which lead to chucking bins through windows? I guess ground down by Pino's racism, perhaps? But still. What's the motivation? Being a big ole pacifist I loved the Mayor, and grew to love Sal. But why did the riot happen? Just the heat? After an hour of Sal saying how much he loved his neighbourhood, and Buggin' Out failing to garner support for a boycott, where did all those other people come from? Were we just meant to think "it's very hot + this resentment was there underneath"?

At the same time, I feel there were some characters who had a good point to make about race relations, but they were painted as idiots. Buggin' Out has a perspective worth exploring - while it's petty in part to protest about someone else's hall of fame, and his mode of dealing with it unproductive; nevertheless, the lack* of a black-owned, black-run space was also acknowledged within the film (by the three men sitting by the road among others), and I agree that there is something unecessarily antagonistic about a single-race hall of fame in a multi-racial neighbourhood. It's counterbalanced by Love Radio's "WE LOVE ROLL CALL" of great black musicians. One of the smartest scenes in the film depicts Pino struggling with the blackness of his heroes - they're not really black, he argues weakly. When Buggin' Out declares "man, fuck gentrification" - it's a hostile scene, which shows him in a poor light, but that's not to say there are genuine problems with gentrification.

Even before Radio Raheem's martyrdom, I felt he was a sympathetic character. At the same time, while I've a suspicion the radio was meant to represent black agency or something, and that Fight the Power was an expression of his hidden inner soul, in practice? Playing loud music in public is just rude and objectionable.

Are we meant to be confused? Is that the message? "Race - oh darn, what a mess!" Are there just no easy answers?

I wouldn't normally look so closely at the morals of a movie if I'd been enjoying it too. I enjoyed it in parts, and as is always the risk with a portmanteau, some stories interested more than others. Mayor's heroism warmed my little hippy soul, and his winter-non-romance with Mother Sister was dead cute. I couldn't believe that Sal's diner actually functioned as a real shop - I wouldn't eat at a place constantly underscored by shouty point-scoring and squabbling from the crew.

The chief problem for me is the - what we'll call T-patter - gets old quickly. This is unjust in the extreme - for one thing, Spike Lee precedes and obviously inspires Tarantino; for another, academics have convincingly argued that Tarantino's white characters hide "black bodies", or however that article puts it. But I can't help how I feel - this script doesn't have QT's wit or charm, and I kept tuning out of the irritatingly circular dialogue. Perhaps my strong association of it with Tarantino triggers in me the expectation of something throwaway and fun, and I found its juxtaposition with a serious drama too disorienting. Pino reminds me of Nice Guy Eddy - but without the humour, he merely retains the irritance factor. And this very early scene was almost a film-breaker for me:
Sal: Pino, get a broom and sweep out front.
Pino: Vito, get a broom and sweep out front.
Vito: Huh?
Pino: Get a broom and sweep out front.
Vito: What?
Vito: See, Pop, it's just what I was telling ya, every time you tell Pino what to do, he tells me to do what you told him what to do.
It was this or Singing in the Rain...

Did like much of the music. At times, I felt the orchestral score was a bit slapped on, but the jazzier pieces (deriving from the song Summertime?) and pop tunes were great.

Two other thoughts:
  • I have been musing recently about "becoming black" or "becoming white". Pino sees himself as white, or whit-er than those around him but admires black culture; the Koreans defend their store by claiming they are black. In the past, "black" was used as this catchall category which included both the Jews and the Irish. An example from the 1850s -the Irish were often referred to as "Negroes turned inside out" and Negroes as "smoked Irish." Over time, these groups have "become" white. I still can't decide whether this is a step forward - at least we're more inclusive now! - or a step back - judging on appearance is very childish. It's probably just a step...
  • I expected death! In fact, this film is notable for having no guns, no knives, and only one murder.
  • Does Do The Right Thing qualify as a hood movie? If it does, it must be a very early one. I wrote a study of them two years back, investigating the trend from social debate ("Oh no! Look at the problems!") to entertainment ("Gonna shoot some people up!"), characterised by Boyz in the Hood (which I loved), Menace II Society (which I didn't see, but condemned all the same) and City of God, which struck me as the most offensive and objectionable film I'd ever seen. I chose to write the essay in part because I wanted to discuss depictions of violence, and partly because I was just so ANGRY about it.
  • As an early, pre-Boyz movie I'd warrant this was one of the more realistic. I was reminded of Bowling for Columbine, and Michael Moore's non-scientific juxtaposition of gun ownership and white paranoia about black youths. Because don't all black americans carry guns?! Shock! The only killing that goes on here is a case of police brutality. Good choice.
In all? Rather nihilistic, rather confusing, rather forgetteable. Pity.

*does Love Radio count, though?
becoming white quote:
Another perspective:

Breakfast academia

All wars, past and present, have a cinematic touchstone for how they are portrayed. The First World War is written by Wilfred Owen - the pathos of men dying in trenches, the movies like cattle. World War two has a better time - it is appropriate to make Kelly's Heroes, say, adventure, derring-do, and patriotism - after all, we won! An easily villainised bad guy, perhaps, makes WW2 far more straightforward. Vietnam is harder to pin down, I admit.

My favourite war movie is the Dustwar - you know, almost contemporary, south of the Equator, realistic violence, vaguely factual? Stylistically, this is a war that happens on the television - lots of handheld, fuzzy footage. Dustwar movies are always, absolutely about "the other", and the keynote in these films is, I believe, "confusion". Some common themes:
  • How do we tell the bad guys from the good guys?
  • What are they saying?
  • Where are the weapons?
  • Is that car safe, or is it a car bomb?
  • Should we even be here?
Black Hawk Down - one of my favourites, and also one of the most shallow. American helicopter crashes in Mogadishu. Chaos reigns as the army decides to rescue their downed men. Then a second helicopter crashes.

It's not a particularly intelligent film - unlike most of these, it doesn't confront the entire problem of conflict, and is in its own way to be criticised for turning the enemy army into a faceless mass of shuffling zombies. There also is its strength, because it conveys the experience of being a soldier on the ground for a few hours - to whom I imagine the enemy are as impersonal as a telesales operator. It is powerful for ignoring Why We Are In Mogadishu entirely, and focusing on what a soldier experiences to survive the next three minutes - a balanced view would have weakened, not strengthened, this film's uniqueness.

This film elegantly illustrates my first point: physical confusion. They get lost, all the houses look the same, they get split up from one another. In fact, the first time I watched this with dad he drew me a map of Mogadishu so we could keep track. Black Hawk Down is about the horror of being lost in a strange place and unable to get physical bearings.

Is it just me, or are you really darn glad for the all-star cast? They're all scruffy men of the same age with identical clothes and hairstyles. Ridley Scott insisited they wear helmets with their character names on them, for the sake of the audience, even though this is inaccurate.

Now watch what I am about to do:

Three Kings - After the first Gulf War, four soldiers go on a private mission to steal Saddam's hidden gold. Sorted! But Three Kings is about moral confusion, as they gradually get drawn into the plight of the abandoned locals.

I mean, it's not that confusing. After about 20 minutes, Clooney decides he's too beautiful to be brutal and starts saving women and children. So at it's core, there is a pretty comforting white narrative to enjoy. But the film points to its ambiguities - the American army are pulling out, with orders not to help the locals, even while our heroes can see that's wrong. Head torturer turns out to be a decent chap who was just following orders. And the moral journey of the heroes is headlined: it is Barlow who is keenest to abandon Amir who they have just rescued from electroshock torture in a bunker, because his survival is incidental. He gets his comeuppance: later the rebels sort-of attack the soldiers in his area, but only to steal a truck, and Barlow is left with the same torturer in a different bunker.

It's not quite that obvious when you're watching. Honest. Other great confusions - the gas bomb which separates the group because they cannot see; Barlow attempting to shoot an Iraqi not realising he is an ally; the torturer has learnt his warfare (and English) in America; the journalist being sent on a wild goose chase to drive around in circles; our heroes finding the right village, but the wrong bunker, and having to return a second time. They even turn confusion against the Other, by mimicing the arrival of Saddam to clear the castle.

This kind of moral confusion is the preserve of the Dustwar movie. I am fairly sure that Black Hawk also contains a morality-charged torture scene - don't the opposition have any better information they want out of soldiers, that they have time to guilt trip them instead?

The Kingdom? Moral confusion. Syriana? Moral confusion. Confusion full stop if you don't make notes.

Hurt Locker - not a film I liked, though I cannot now remember why. The stereotypes seemed too broad, I think. What I did feel, though, is that it is primarily about linguistic confusion. Yeah, that's the worst thing about those foreign people - they don't even speak American! It BAFFLES me that as a soldier, you would go into a war zone and not learn the basic lingo. You know. "Hello". "Where are the toilets please?" "Get on the motherfucking ground!" There are similar scenes in most of these films, but Hurt Locker in particular makes you think that if the two sides could simply communicate, so much time could have been saved. All these scenes of Americans shouting in English, and Iraqis shouting in Arabic, or Kurdish, and I just want to bash their heads together and say "people don't understand if you just talk louder!"

Being part of the bomb disposal squad, there is also considerable uncertainty as to what can be trusted. Car or carbomb? Refugee, or prisoner-attached-to-a-bomb? Or corpse with a bomb surgically implanted?

Thought for the day!

Alpha Mike Foxtrot

I adore The A-Team - was quite obsessed with it for a patch last year, but was ultimately frustrated by how repetitive and unimaginative the plotting was. Evil greedy capitalists screwing over decent folk and bribing the local sherrif? Again?

So the film was a must see, and ignoring a few misgivings, I cannot remember such a few hoursof unabashed happiness. Ever. I laughed all the way through: from the daft opening, with the characters getting Tarantinian freeze frames with their names, to B.A. having "PITY" and "FOOL" tattooed on his knuckles, to Face being the guy to understand their sleazy nemesis and explaining it all with a shell game.

They made exactly the right choice on the tone - trimmed out some of the camp, made the violence feel less cartoonish, but still remained gleefully daft. The director was quoted in Empire with this fabulous soundbite:

"Look, if you don't like the idea of a tank falling out of the sky and shooting at a plane, then this movie's not going to be for you. But I think if you don't like the idea of a tank falling out of the sky, then you fundamentally have a fucking problem with cinema."
Getting that tone right was the chief thing I had been previously concerned about, and I'm still impressed that they managed to keep it all raw and realistic. And to fly a tank at the same time. The actors were all perfect (I loved Lynch!), the script was very good - it just would have been nice if they had enunciated better. I missed quite a lot of the banter because the accents just would not stick in my head. And some of the action sequences needed to be a little clearer too - I couldn't always keep track of who was shooting at what. Everything you would want was there: drugging B.A. to get him on aircraft, rigging up weapons from stuff they have lying about.

It was also a deeply problematic film. Looking back on what I've typed, I've dedicated more time to griping than squeeing: decidedly not how I feel. Damn the politics - it was awesome. Tank. Plane. But there's only so much you can say about having fun...the following section is basically deeply spoilerific, but surely this doesn't matter considering what we have under discussion.

One of the more interesting twists was that B.A. got very zen in prison, and came out refusing to kill. Now I thought this was really cool - it neatly mirrored Mr T's conversion to religion and by giving him a proper character arc, transformed him into the most interesting of the bunch. It also tallied with my headcanon: despite the ludicrous amount of firearms, I think there are only six onscreen deaths in four seasons, suggesting that they were trying to avoid killing as far as possible. Whether this is legal or moral is never explained. He quotes Gandhi, and explains multiple times that he is not comfortable killing. Hannibal - who is cooler than this - quotes some Gandhi back:
"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."
And tells him he needs to discover "something worth fighting for". When they later repeat this fuzzy terminology, and he says "Yes, I've found it" - it's never really defined what "it" is. "Peer pressure", as far as I can tell. Peer pressure and guilt tripping, and I was rather disappointed. Hannibal isn't really that manipulative; B.A. can still be a cool hero and not kill people - in fact, seeing how keen he is to protect kids in the original, I figure he'd be pretty disappointed.

In truth, I probably shouldn't have been looking to the A-Team for positive messages about violence. It has always been about heroic veteran vigilantes. But in my own head, I had partly reclaimed it as part of the "post-Nam counter cultural dropout thingie". In the show, we never see them as soldiers except in some misty past none of them talk about - their missions are always Robin Hood style mercy missions to ordinary folks. The show's stance on the army is therefore more ambiguous - they are obviously patriots, obviously proud of their fellow men. But the impression I had was like the Democracy Village banner: "We Support The Soliders; We Do Not Support The War". And to my mind, perhaps all the heroism was maybe a sort of atonement - their own mad manifestation of PTSD. Face in particular has never seemed like a violent man to me - someone who fights to get out of situations, and would really rather retire, but can't give up his friends or the jazz.

This is my personal slant, and it's only just occured to me how personal. We all enjoy fiction on our own terms, but I thought I was giving the story some depth. Actually I was just making it palatable. Would I be able to enjoy The A-Team TV if the characters were portrayed as pro-war, pro-that war in particular? As it stands, the army theme is window dressing - the characters are apolitical, the messages neutral. Maybe not with the same vigour, or in the same way.

The movie makes the right choice in its structure - it shows the team's first mission in a pre-title-sequence, then shows them blundering into the crime-they-did-not-commit and the film is concerned with them trying to discover who set them up. It was also correct to update the story to the modern day. But juxtaposing the nu-Team with a real war cannot be anything but a political statement, and implicit approval - one scene with Hannibal chatting enthusiastically with happy locals left a particularly sour taste. When they rescue a village under threat from greedy developers, it's an obvious case of good verses nasty. But given the information that they have completed "80 successful missions" in Iraq is...also not cool, because war isn't that clear cut but about following orders. Some were probably of a philanthropic nature, but they can't all have been unless you accept the Iraq war as a Good Thing.

The film is very certain: these are army men. They want to clear their names and be restored to their ranks. They even wait for permission to break out of jail. Probably better characterisation than the show's, but still problematic. It left me with a far stronger impression of people I would not want to spend any time with. That's why I loved B.A. more than I ever have before (I'm normally a Hannibal girl), and was deeply disappointed with the resolution of that arc. It also undermines, say, Hannibal's decision not to shoot a villain in cold blood earlier on.

Summer blockbuster - definitely asking too much. And I'm not going to think about whether the depiction of women was good, bad, questionable, or indifferent, because the answer cannot be good and for now I don't care. Most awesome afternoon ever!

A man chooses; a slave obeys

I want to talk about violent video games. Today's issue comes with headers, to tidy up my circuitous prose.

Some History

An area which fascinates me, but only in a theoretical way as I have never lived in a house with them before. The arrival of a new housemate gave me the opportunity to properly play a console game for the first time in my life - to the general amusement of everyone else, who went through this phase age 5 or 6.

My parents were rather old fashioned on that front, and on the whole I am greatful: games do feel like a terrible drain on life. Abstractly, I believe that if a video game gives you a compelling aesthetic and narrative experience, it's no better or worse than watching a film (and that, no more than reading a book). And the ability to beat difficult games is no better or worse than any other ability (arguably, better because their effects are confined to so small a world they can never be used for evil). But in practice, less games seem to come up to my high movie watching standards, and looking back on most of my gaming experiences they seem like wasted time

A classic example would be Guitar Hero, which I played for half an hour and switched off in disgust. It is a challenging game which requires dedicated practice, but if you're going to put in that much effort why not just learn the sodding guitar? Especially because the required skillset for hitting the keys in time is far closer to playing the piano.

Belief Systems

Bioshock is a staggering exception, but I'll discuss that later. I'd like to get onto violence, and I'll preface this by saying I no longer believe in an objective "self". We have different modes of behavior we shrug on and off like clothes: Sunday best for the vicar, formalwear for family occasions, something smartcasual for work and sloppy jeans for weekends alone. From person to person, we might have different morality sets - lying to a child or a door-to-door Evangelist in a way we wouldn't to an adult or a friend. We certainly behave differently (i.e. use of swearing) and have different interests depending on the company. With all that taken into account, it seems holding any belief and claiming it is indomitable is problematic, without boiling everything down to a pragmatic "it depends". There are always exceptions, and indeed there has to be.

This might be obvious, but I'm fascinated by the sincerity behind all this. We know that habit can change people by sheer persistance. You can come to love dull activities, endlessly-repeated radio earworms and even people just because they are always there and you get used to it. With all this slipping we do to survive life, surely then we also change our own minds - our basic principles - many times a day.

I now live in two different places, and what my two groups of friends can get away with is very different. Purely because I met one aged 11, and another aged 18, and what I needed at those two times was also different. I'd like to say my metronome behavior was caused by not wanting to freak the older set out by seeming to suddenly change, but in truth it is habit. I just snap back into old patterns.

This isn't necessarily a problem, because both places make me feel at home and I'd even miss the elements of both which piss me off because hey! Friends are the people whose defects you can adore as madly as their qualities. Nevertheless, it is an interesting illustration of the point above. I now live two lives. One lot are amused by my love for violent films, the other is less about cinema and more about me being a secret serial killer. It's the same joke, but an interesting change of emphasis. There, I like gory cinema; here I have a blood fetish. I'm not sure either is correct, or quite that simple. Which of these two people am I? Am I huggy, or rather detatched? Am I an endlessly accomodating doormat, or do I stand up for myself, albeit in a roundabout fashion? What are the level of lies, conscious, unconscious, white and by omission, I am prepared to tell?

The answer to that question relies on your postcode. And how do I answer a question like that, if accepting and enjoying myriad personalities is the strongest life stance I hold (except, naturally enough, when it isn't)? A pal recently used the rather lovely phrase "Schroedinger's Emily", and as if to prove my point, one close friend was really surprised I was enjoying the game - whereas another wasn't surprised at all.

I went into that for two reasons: first, to warn you I'm perfectly capable of holding multiple, contradictory beliefs and I think that on some level you must be too. But chiefly, to illustrate that I am mentally flexible and aware of my flexibility, and thus incredibly susecptible to things I experience. On this basis, I believe if it's mad enough for one person to experience life like this, it stands to reason that many others must also.

And finally, on violence

The chief question involving violent entertainment is "Should we legislate against it?". I find this a hard question to answer:

Nothing should legislate against art. A solid hangover from my Oscar Wilde days.

Art impacts life. Shakespeare knew as much:
"That guilty creatures, sitting at a play / Have by the very cunning of the scene / Been struck so to the soul that presently /They have proclaim'd their malefactions"

This point is irrefutable. If what we see does not change us, then why would there be advertising? Why would pressure groups be so concerned about the depiction of their chosen minority on screen? Why do companies put product placement in movies, and pay celebrities to wear their clothes? How does tie-in merchandising work? Why are documentaries made, or movies with a social concience? Why do cosplayers expend time and effort creating replica costumes from their favourite heroes?

If art did not impact life, then none of these strategies would work. The fact is they do, QED. Arguably, holy books are nothing but books containing stories so marvellous, so affecting that they move people to be better than they can be and dedicate themselves to a cause - and thus art impacts life quite profoundly.

But when it impacts life should one man's right to "make art" be counted as more important than the rights of others to live safely? My answer to that would depend on whether Oscar Wilde or Doctor Who is closer within my mental reach. I mean, art is immortal and makes humanity seem meaningless in comparison: a few lives in exchange for the Mona Lisa (or pick your favourite work of art, including great albums or movies) which will be adored by generations doesn't seem like a big sacrifice. But then on other days, it's life, life above all - one single human life is more important than anything else. It's humans who create art after all.

I'm not sure I can ever work that out. Would it really matter to us, now, if ten more nameless Greeks had burnt at the Library of Alexandria - but the complete works of Socrates and Euripides had survived?

Art affects people in different ways. Should we kill off whole genres of entertainment because it might just set off some lone nutter, already primed by life. I don't think there's ever been conclusive proof of killings purely in the wake of vicious media. There have always been other factors - enviroment, upringing e.t.c. And they often inspire the means through which sprees take place, but as far as I'm aware, don't cause them. My evidence is that I've seen Clockwork Orange and my dad's seen Natural Born Killers, and we're both still sane and dandy. If any film was that dangerous, then how could the BBFC raters - who see all the most degrading cinema has to offer - not be locked away in maximum security?

But see above. If Clockwork Orange is even tangentally going to be implicated in the death of a real human being, would it not be better never to have been created? Regardless of the thousands it has inspired in its turn?

How do you reconcile all of that? Even if I could untangle those three threads to my satisfaction, there are other things to take into consideration:
Is there a difference between commercial violence and artistic violence? i.e. Rambo vs Antichrist, violent rape porn vs Irreversable, The A-Team vs Saving Private Ryan. Movies aim to make you feel by using images. Does it make a difference if violent images are designed for enjoyment? Or if you enjoy violent images regardless of their creators intent? If you're going to judge between art and "porn", how do you tell? And once you've said "you can watch these films because their intent is art", how do you force viewers not to enjoy them as porn?

Saving Private Ryan is an interesting one there, because the BBFC rated it a 15 - despite the loopy levels of violence. They judged that it had important historical merit, and as such teachers should be able to show it in class. Does its "artistic" intent automatically mean no kid has ever laughed "phwoar, look at that head go!" while viewing?

Why do we rate realistic violence as more dangerous than tame? If protecting the young is our goal, then surely presenting painful death is more important than showing something gleefully consequence free?
It's clear then that there are two strands in the debate on legislating violence: preventing people from copying what they see AND protecting young minds from scary images. Sex is case in point. While I don't want my hypothetical kids seeing all that on screen till they're much older, nevertheless sex is basically a good act, while violence never is. Seeing a happy consensual couple get on with it at whatever age is not a damaging image - violence is always "wrong" and is always "disgusting".

And this leads us onto one of the bigger ethical questions never asked in this debate:

Should we be enjoying this? We should respect the human right to choose - to an extent. We can all agree that extent is causing actual damage to actual people. It's written in the BBFC basic manifesto that adults should be able to choose their own viewing so long as it is not dangerous. But should we choose to watch pain for our entertainment? Is it good for - dare I say it? - our souls? Is someone who refuses violent imagery a "better" person?
Violent video games

I thought I knew where I stood on all of this. I love a bit of violence, me. My stance on film is, broadly, put the art first - even though I value life, and I admit influence exists. I do not want a world where we cannot make movies about war or crime. I have great faith in the idea of rating systems, and the BBFC in particular. We have to change the world before changing movies would have any noticeable effect on violence in society. I am suspicious of "entertainment violence", such as The A-Team, particularly with reference to children - kids need more heroes like Doctor Who, saving the world through brains and not brawn. But that's the role of parents in judging what is wholesome for their kids to consume.

The twin in the movie violence debate is the violent video game. As mentioned above, video games are as valid an artistic experience as a film - so should get the same rights. Having never played one, I've always assumed I stood in the same place.

No. No I don't, emphatically not - coming into proper contact has raked this whole debate up again, even when I thought I'd done it to death and was bored.


The problem wasn't so much with Bioshock. The game is beautifully designed, giving you a strong experience aside from killing stuff. I experienced very vivid emotions while playing, but this was targeted on the characters: pity for the splicers, mad love for Andrew Ryan, and a strong sympathy with Jack, the character I was playing. His desire to get home, his total dislocation really affected me. When sneaking down corridors, my mind was ticking on the issues being raised by the story - in particular, something the game never explored. I couldn't help but be distracted by the tragedy of having to "splice" magic powers to survive attacks by "splicers" who had gone mad and become addicted because of the splicing process. The thought of becoming what I was fighting was my primary concern; and with it, that to escape I had to contribute to the destruction of a beautiful city which I really came to love. The enemies are obviously mad zombies, you primarily attack them with magic powers and the location is very far dislocated by anything you could experience in real life. It is also a very scary game - you get sufficienly involved by it that the survival instinct kicks in, and you kill things because you have to. Opportunities to hurt anything like a real human raised in me a huge level of antipathy, and I believe this is encouraged by the game.

Perhaps apt to the questions I mentioned above, the game touches on the morality/life dichotomy. You crash land and discover an underwater city, built to escape the cold war and where "the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small". In other words, built on selfishness - built on people who would make violent cinema without considering the human consequences. But the city is in ruins, death by selfishness; and the game's narrative gives you regular opportunities to either act selfishly or for personal gain. All this puts morality at the forefront of the experience, and constantly forces you to think about what you are doing and why. Maybe this softens the effect of the violence?

The chief emotion I experienced throughout- and this is absolutely exploited - is pathos: for the Little Sisters, for the Big Daddies, for the splicers, for Ryan and the rest, for the city itself, for the main character, and ultimately, it all rather upset me in a very enjoyable manner.

Grand Theft Auto

I had been thinking about the debate while playing it, because I did enjoy killing things very much. So my next choice was perhaps obvious: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Well, shit. I didn't actually try the whole game, just spent an afternoon on sandbox mode, but my response was very different. Unlike Bioshock, it is set in a very familiar location and is packed with real-world detail. The fact the graphics were unrealistic actually made it worse - I think I would have found it harder to hurt or threaten people if the visuals had been less bright and blocky. There are no long-term consequences to creating mayhem: escaping cops is easy, nothing goes on your permenant record and you merely lose your arsenal and get let out ten hours later if caught. And there are certainly no emotional consequences - unlike poor lost Jack onto whom I could project my isolation at being in a strange place, you are playing a criminal. And unlike brooding horror, GTA is packed with exciting upbeat rock.

All that is cold rationalisations why the violence in GTA affected me in a different way to Bioshock. I don't know how far any of them are "true". All I know is that pointing and clicking at someone's head, then watching it explode in a shower of blood gave me a very visceral reaction. If I could avoid killing in Bioshock, then I did - and those times I had to assassinate something I recognised as human gave me a very vivid "do not want!" experience. Within five minutes on GTA, we were attempting to replicate the Ripper killings by luring them around corners and dicing them with the katana for the LOLs. Holy smokes, I'm a pacifist. And a Doctor Who fan. And I think trivialising the Ripper killings is sick.

I think the chief difference is, GTA does not give you an emotional compass to work from. Life hasn't shown you how to respond to your myriad violent options, and the game doesn't help. And one of the ways humans react to such situations is with humour - think of a nervous laugh, awkward smiles or bad taste jokes. You can't comprehend the horror of a child's corpse - so here, have a dead baby joke. A lot of my generation feign racist/imperalist beliefs - even among my most liberal pals - that they absolutely do not hold, and to my mind it's because racism is so terrible you often can't respond to it sincerely without being totally swamped. Tarantino movies do something similar with their combo of violence and humour. Hence why replicating the Ripper killings suddenly seemed amusing and acceptable.

I also experienced, even temporarily, a total desensitisation towards violence. As mentioned above, my mind is as malleable as pulped intestine - so being immersed in such a game did have an effect on me. I felt like yes, this could have a noticeable effect on my real life if played to excess. Humans respond very quickly to learned behavior - there are stories of WOW players who escaped wild animals with their online skills, of ER viewers who have saved lives. Scientists have proved that neurotics are better in survival situations - people on, say, a train who spend the journey panicing that it might crash respond quicker to their mental worst-case-scenarios instead of freezing. I was so pumped up after watching Run, Lola, Run that when I was accidentally locked into the bathroom ten minutes later, I climbed out of the window and made my own escape. I do not think I would have done that in a calmer state of mind.

On the Sims, when you click another character you get a dial of interaction options. If they are a stranger, you might be able to "Greet" or "Tell Joke". But if you put time into making them friends, the number of interaction options increases - and now you can do everything from "Attack" to "Romance", with numerous options within. I feel that if confronted with a real weapon, I feel my options have expanded from "Panic!" and "Put It Down" to, in the right situation, "Use". Bear in mind I only played for about four hours, so I am sure the number of positive messages I'm getting outweighs the negative ones.

Nevertheless, I felt rather queer about the whole experience for a while afterwards. My chief question, as mentioned above, was "should we be enjoying this?" Which is NEVER a question I have asked about film before. You identify with film characters and you choose to watch, so you are thereby complicit in any bloodletting taking place. But having the power to point and shoot when you choose draws attention to the decision making process, and makes you directly involved, which is perhaps now it suddenly seems dirtier.

A friend has suggested that, with my background in violent media scholarship, perhaps my reaction was a response to what I know of GTA's reputation. This may be correct (and so it might also be of Bioshock).

Dead Space

Undeterred, I looked for another game to play properly, all the way through and chose Dead Space - sci-fi horror. Now, this was another realistic one and very beautiful too. You are running up and down rusty, light-flickery corridors, very post-Alien, and being attacked by fleshy spider creatures. One of the game's USPs is the combat. You can aim very accurately, and emphasis is on disabling Necromorphs instead of diminishing their damage points. Which is a pretty cool system, when you think about it, as it takes into account realistic injury. Once I got ahang of the controls, I adopted a definite tactic - one or two shots to the legs so they collapse to the floor, and while they flailing are struggling to move, one to the head. Followed by a good kicking to make sure they are definitely dead.

Well. Quite.

As such, it is a very sadistic game indeed. Even though the Necromorphs are the least human thing I've attacked in this experiment, the game system requires you to think carefully about how best to cause pain - with the obligatory satisfying splatter of blood. I was not comfortable with this, and switched off after about half an hour. It seemed like Deep Space was trying to develop a plot, but it didn't sufficiently draw me in that time to give an emotional compass which made killing Necromorphs in that fashion acceptable to me.

A summing up

I had three different responses:

  • Bioshock: realistic style, unrealistic situation. Could play.
  • GTA: Non realistic style, realistic situation. Could play, but later felt sick at myself.
  • DS: realistic style, fairly unrealistic situation. Couldn't play.
Perhaps we are dealing with two different debates, and far from what I always assumed what is good for cinema is not good for videogames.

Something Dead Space and GTA have in common is they are "third person". You play the game over the shoulder of your character; in Bioshock, your eyes are the whole screen. Of cinema, I would say that detatchment is the best response to violence - viewing the violent characters as alien to oneself, as something on show. If you feel close association with violent characters it is more likely for the film to break out into real life. Perhaps when I could see my avatars on screen in DS and GTA it enabled me to be more violent than when I was immersed in Bioshock. This is a strong reversal to what I would claim about cinema: I think immersive film violence is more dangerous than when you have a bit of perspective.

I would also say that consequence-free movie violence is more troubling than high-rated sticky screaming, and this is backed up by my video game experiment. GTA was sufficiently fake looking, and free from consequence that I created some quite enthusiastic mayhem even though the rendering of blood was quite dilligent. Bioshock felt like a real world, but my disgust was padded by an obvious fantasy setting and magical powers. I felt troubled at killing some characters - but not the hordes of default zombies. I completed the game. Deep Space had realistic graphics, and was set in a world which, despite monsters and the futuristic tech, still felt sufficiently real that I could not continue. I felt it was encouraging me to be cruel

Strong narratives are better than weak ones. Like the best movies, Bioshock manipulated me throughout - but I felt like I chose how to feel in any given situation. Even though it was usually how it wanted me to feel. It both dictated my emotional response, and asked me to formulate my own. I brought my real-world morals to it - it did not give it's game-world morals to me. GTA rewards villainy, Bioshock rewards something but it doesn't immediately tell you what that is, and that sense of identification made me check my own actions on several occasions. So freedom is not a good thing: GTA and DS never really told me how I should be responding to the game experience, and I found it consequently more difficult to create a story. Whereas I would say deciding how you stand on a film, instead of having it obviously prescribed, was important.

To sum up my response:
  • The more I recognise a creature as "real" - either due to the quality of graphics or their human appearance and personality - the harder I find killing.
  • Conversely, if characters have no personality, are fantasy/fictional or are presented with unrealistic graphics, I find it very easy.
  • The more immersed I am personally in a game, the more I feel as if my personal integrity is at stake - the better I will be have, the harder I find killing.
  • Conversely, the cartoonishness of GTA and possibly the third person perspective of both allowed me greater freedom to do things I would not in life.
  • The harder a game works to make a world emotionally satisfying, and ascribe ethical/emotional meaning to actions on screen, the more invested I feel in it, and the harder I find killing.
  • Conversely - you get the drift.
Despite all this - and this is the important bit - I feel these unrealistic games did tug at my primal human bloodlust in the real world with more than the realistic. This may only be true for me, but yes I believe they have real life consequences and can be dangerous in eroding moral values. Do I think violent video games should recieve tighter legislation? Yes, definitely - different to how I feel about film, but perhaps that is because I don't have the same passion as for them.

Probably. But then see every single argument I made on films above - they still apply. I'm flexible. I'm also a rather flawed test dummy as I've only ever played a few console games, and thus perhaps the novelty gave them greater effect over my emotions. If I had played hundreds, perhaps I would be desensitised and better recognise them as fiction, nothing more.


I've been thinking a lot recently about Guns of Navarone, and in particular, the fact my gay-reading becomes increasingly more elaborate with every watch.

But as a fan of buddy movies, I normally see gay readings as totally off limits. After all, films can be homosocial without having to be homosexual as well - and I think romance is over-valued as a cinematic fallback compared to a good friendship. So what is going on?

Thinking about the topic, I've developed a general theory on why some films seem gayer than others, and the secret resides in the depiction of female characters. All buddy movies are homosocial, but is it just the absence of screwing that rescues them? I mean, on the face of it:

Buddy movie
Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists. The relationship is non-sexual, but undeniably romantic.

Gay movie
Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists. The relationship is sexual, and probably (but not necessarily) romantic.

On that reasoning, sex is the only difference. But for all we know, it could be going on off-screen - in Brideshead Revisited it almost certainly is.

Having explored my thoughts for a while, I think the key lies in the presentation of female characters. And now it's on paper, I am amazed by how comprehensive this theory is. Explicitly straight films and shows tend to show women as allies on an equal level, and when they aid the male protagonists, it is through "feminine" skills. In gay or unintentionally queer movies, women are the most dangerous antagonists, threatening the safety or happiness of male protagonists. They also often exhibit "male" qualities. Very very gay movies have two levels of threat - a narrative one and an emotional one. You can't split the two, of course (emotion comes from narrative; emotion can also be narrative), but less gay movies exhibit one of the two, or one less strongly.

I don't think this is a universal theory, mostly because it supports things I've always thought about movies. If it is a universal theory, then I've just found a formula that proves me right: unlikely. But there are still some interesting things to explore here.

So this is an examination of some of my favourite homosexual and homosocial movies, analysing what the female characters represent in each. There are spoilers ahoy.

Gay movies

Brokeback Mountain
Main antagonist: 1950s mores; wives
Female leads: wives
Threat: emotional, though as a real-lifey-drama arguably the emotion is the narrative.

The tragic ending is the fault of men, but that's merely the last ten minutes in a very long film. The tragedy throughout is our heroes' inability to be together, and the chief reason why they cannot - 1950s morals - is embodied in the fact they both get married. Though prejudice is the real problem, the two female characters represent that problem. All other factors in their misery - the need to get jobs, to conform to social pressure - are linked straight back to their wives.

Main anagonist: a blackmailing ring; the law
Female leads: Melville Farr's wife, the blackmailer.
Threat: narrative and emotional

As a film about prejudice, homophobia comes from left, right and centre and mostly from men. But characters who actively cause negative events are exclusively female. The emotional challenge in the film is Mrs Farr trying to come to terms with her husband's "condition". Drama is caused by him a) hiding his feelings for her sake; b) fearing her reaction, or that she will be hurt, by his state and c) her walking out on him. When the blackmailers are exposed, the head of the ring is the only other female character of significance in the film. She is therefore responsible for the entire plot.

Beautiful Thing
Main antagonist: "Mama Cass" and mum
Female leads: "Mama Cass" and mum
Threat: narrative and emotional

One of the things I love about Beautiful Thing is how positive it is. Two boys fall in love on an 80s council estate, and no one really minds. It pretends to be social realism for about an hour - complete with an abusive older brother who you're sure is going to be vital later - then chucks it in favour of life-affirming romantic fluff. Consequently, there are no serious antagonists. However, when they are trying to hide their affair, it is their female next door neighbour who frequently threatens to reveal them. And the character who they must win over is one of their mothers. No fathers, brothers or other male friends ever appear on screen - actually, an argument I develop below, as a single mother the mum is mascarading as a male. And mum's boyfriend is the most homo-friendly character in the film.

Movies that, by this reasoning, are coded gay

Guns of Navarone
Main antagonist: time, Nazis - and a female traitor
Female lead: two resistance fighters, one being a traitoress.
Threat: narrative

Our heroes are an all-male team, joined by two female resistance fighters on the island. The two women naturally exhibit masculine qualities - they are armed and tough. However, one turns out to be a traitoress, and the one factor which comes closest to jepordising the success of the mission. This is pretty impressive, when you consider a ship-sinking storm, a critically injured teammember and the entire German army couldn't do it.

You could also argue that she is threatening because she is mascarading as male. To neutralise the threat, they must expose her as a female - she is undressed, begins crying and we discover she is a traitor because she is afraid of pain. We see two other torture scenes in the film, one with the entire band and Franklin, one featuring only Franklin, and the boys manage to keep their fearless masculine composure thoughout. The second female character, is made safe because she also exhibits female qualities: she is in love with Andrea, and ultimately marries him.

Brideshead Revisited - the first half
Main antagonist: alcoholism; lady Marchmain
Female lead: lady Marchmain (later Mrs Ryder and Julia)
Threat: emotional

All that chumming around at Oxford is cut short by Sebastian's drinking. This depression is caused chiefly by his cloying family, and for the first half of the series/book they are represented by Lady Marchmain. She drives a splinter between the pair; she is also responsible for chasing her unhappy husband out of England. Lady Marchmain sends a chill down my spine. We can use the same argument as we did for Navarone, because Lady Marchmain is mascarading as the male patriarch of the family.

The second half, Sebastian drops out in favour of Julia, and thus the argument is no longer valid.

Movies that, by this reasoning, are not coded gay
Ones I've never thought gay, for no good reason, which is now explained by my theory. This theory might not be universal, but it certainly works for me.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Main antagonist: fate, law and the Bolivian army
Female lead: Etta Place, an ally

The studio explicitly flags the pair up as non-gay by depicting them as mutually in love with Etta Place. She is the third member of the group, an equal and takes part in the shooting and robbing. But in her dialogue, she highlights the female-skills she brings to the team - "darning socks"; her main task in Bolivia is to teach them Spanish, and when taking part in heists it is foxing people dressed as a glamorous woman.

The A-Team
Main antagonist: the US military; Colonel Decker; local bad boys
Female lead: Amy Adams, an ally

There is the odd girlfriend about to "prove" the A-Team are straight. But Amy Adams is used much like Etta. She is an equal member of the team, also taking part in shooting, and when her femininity is highlighted it is in a useful way. Her skills within the team are researching, investigative journalism, sympathy and occasionally feminine wiles.

Reservoir Dogs
Main antagonist: each other
Female lead: none

Pretty clear case. If there aren't negative male-female relationships to contrast the positive male-female relationships to, then there can't be any gaying. Some people think White and Orange are gay. I think this takes a lot away from the film, but I admit there is an angle - and the angle is covered in my theory. While the principle threats are the police and one another, the drama is caused by Mr Orange's blood puddle -a puddle caused by an armed woman. But to my mind, that is pretty weak.

Lord of the Rings
Main antagonist: Sauron; Saruman; lots of orcs
Female lead: Arwen, Eowyn

There's lots of slash on the web, and I've never bought it. I've never even bought Sam/Frodo - it's platonic love, which makes it no less valuable as love. No female antagonists - well, virtually no females, until the movie beefed them up.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Main antagonist: fate; Hamlet
Female lead: none

Oh God, I'm so chuffed with this theory. Another pair I've never thought remotely slashy dashed off the list.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Main antagonist: Lord Blackwood
Female lead: Irene Adler, an ally; the future Mrs Watson

This is a tougher one, and maybe that's because it's not clear cut. Even though Irene is allied with the villains, the men work with and not against her. Though she has masculine qualities, she also flaunts her feminine wiles. Similarly, Mrs Watson challenges the future of the central relationship; yet she also seems aware of that relationships importance and does not attack it. Both are threats, but they are pretty small ones - Irene is never directly responsible for foiling, injuring or seriously upsetting the leads. Holmes and Watson are too culturally embedded as a safe, unshatterable pair for Mrs Watson to ever be a serious challenge in our eyes.

Lots of fangirls do read this as gay, and I agree it's a tough one. There is evidence beyond the fact that both are hot, chiefly the way they bicker like an old married couple. It's certainly gayer than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It seems almost suitable that in a case where female representations are mixed up, so would be my conception of how gay it is. And this theory comes into its own when I started looking at shows which for me are a very murky area.

Arguably gay:

Doctor Who
Main antagonist: long running TV show, too many to count

My feelings are mixed, because the evidence points several ways and because I'm hesitant to apply human constructs to alien characters. In general I think this is non-canonical. But its interesting that in general, the female characters on screen function like Etta and Amy: they are friends who bring positive female skills to the Doctor's positive masculine skills.


Doctor Who:Utopia-Sound of Drums-Last of the Timelords
Main antagonist, from the Master's perspective: Martha, Lucy Saxon
Female leads: Martha, Lucy Saxon; Martha's female relatives
Threat: narrative and emotional

In the Russell T. Davis take, The Last of the Timelords, where the slashiness goes off the scale, women are antagonistic. Martha is responsible for taking down the Master, and to do it she utilises masculine attributes (espionage, adventure, would involve shooting if it wasn't Doctor Who). Ultimately, the Doctor cannot take the Master prisoner because he is killed by Lucy Saxon - another woman. Moments before, it is Martha's mum (not her father) who threatens to kill him. In Sound of Drums, the threat of Mr Saxon is headed up by a female agent. In Utopia, a female Futurekind destroys the spaceship and Chan'tho attempts to kill the Master.

It's interesting to see a text about which I have some confusion, itself exhibiting confusion about how it portrays its female characters. Another one causing me headaches is...

Blake's 7
Main antagonist: The Federation, represented by Travis and Servalan
Female leads: allys Jenna and Callie; villainess Servalan
Threat: narrative

At the moment, I'm categorising my leanings as bad writing. I didn't get slash vibes in season one, where every episode was written by a single author, because Blake, Avon and their relationship were consistant. Season two is hard for me to read in any other way, because six or seven authors are contributing and they have a different take on each of the three. Is that professional respect? Friendly irritation? Contempt? Loathing? Ideological issues? Are they a valid buddy pairing, or do they want to kill one another? This makes the relationship so frenetic it's hard to interpret it coherently without throwing love into the mix. As Avon himself would doubtless point out, love is a brilliant way of justifying illogical, irrational behavior.

Lets put it through my theoriser, though. What are the women like? Like Doctor Who, only stronger, its a mix. It features ally-female characters, yet their skills are masculine ones - the same goes for Kasabi, Avalon, Ilsa and other spare females that show up along the way. There's a general absence of womanly-women, even if the female protagonists get shafted in favour of the men.

And though the show exhibits a wide range of antagonists, the overarching villain is the Federation as represented by Servalan. Travis is a major antagonist, but he is very much under her thumb. I'm now going to rewatch the series and see if, on an episode by episode basis, things seem gayer in Servalan episodes.

Ones Which Don't Work

Star Trek
I don't know how I feel about the Fandom That Invented Slash. I haven't watched enough Star Trek to make a judgement. However, I'm pretty sure that women are in general not villainous, and would probably come into the Amy Adams feminine ally catagory, suggesting that Star Trek is not slashy. This is obviously a perspective which many people disagree on, however, perhaps pointing to how ideosyncratic this theory is.

I could argue that Gertrude's infidelity is far more of a plot mover than Claudius' murder, with some success - Freudians have been doing it for years - but it's clutching at straws. Claudius is overwhelmingly the chief antagonist, and he does the murder that causes Gertrude's infidelity. Again, by this reasoning, this would suggest that I should not find a gay reading in Hamlet. And it's true that I'm flexible: I can take or leave it, it's not a vital part of the story because Horatio is merely walking exposition.

But I do often think that Hamlet/Horatio makes a lot of sense, given Hamlet's misogyny and the way his miserable confusion comes back to women so often, and there are plenty of lines that can be read in that manner. It certainly makes better sense than the generally accepted theory that Hamlet is in love with his mum.

Death Note
I'm only half way through, so perhaps things change, but I've never got strong slash vibes off this thing despite it being potentially the slashiest thing ever. Misa is a girly girl, and she only presents a threat unintentionally. Despite this, I'm not confident enough to argue that she is "not a threat", because by this point I worry I would be misjudging how threatening she is on the grounds of what I already believe.

So my final theory stands thus:

Buddy movie
  • Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is non-sexual, but undeniably romantic.
  • Female characters (if present) are allies
  • Their usefulness resides in demonstrating "feminine" skills
  • Subjectively: there is less evidence.
Coded Gay movie
  • Movie is chiefly about the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is sexual, and probably (but not necessarily) romantic.
  • Female characters are present:
    • as narrative villains, or
    • as emotional antagonists
  • Female characters display "masculine" attributes (dress) or skills
  • Subjectively: there is more evidence.
Possibly gay, possibly not
  • Movie is chiefly about something else entirely
  • An important aspect of the movie is the relationship between two (or more) same-gender protagonists.
  • The relationship is non-sexual, and not necessarily romantic
  • Female characters are present both as narrative villains and emotional antagonists AND as allies.
  • Female characters can display "masculine" or "female" attributes
  • Subjectively: evidence inconclusive
I feel a book coming on, oh yes I do!

Victim (1961)

All sorts of reasons, but chiefly due to my interest in censorship and classification: it was the first English language film to use the word "homosexual" and it was banned in America for a year. It's an exercise in soapbox noir - one of the many 1960s films taking advantage of greater social freedoms and less restrictive censorship. Our hero - think Atticus Finch as played by Gary Cooper - is attempting to bring down blackmailers who were responsible for the death of his sort-of-boyfriend. Along the way, he meets an ever growing number of other closeted fellows being blackmailed, while all the time the noose gets tighter around his own neck.

Before the film could be made, the BBFC went through the script and removed four lines - including our hero's tame-but-still-shocking admission that he "wanted" a particular young man. Three of them later snuck back in. The internet claims the film is part of the reason public opinion changed, and parliament got moving on changing the laws which still threw people in jail - things finally got straightened out in 1967.

It's sympathies are loudly announced very early on: "Victim", of all names. Normally, that's the type of thing I couldn't stomach - and there are one or two points where characters as good as turn to the camera and present a charity appeal - but it's redeemed by being brilliant, heartbreaking and featuring the ever yummy Dirk Bogarde as an Englishman in distress. The heroism on screen is matched by the heroism of the actors and production team, for creating a potentially career-ruining piece of cinema - the list of people who turned down roles is long and legendary.

Despite its significance as a gay movie, it is perhaps most interesting for the ways it is, to modern audiences, repressed and representative of a different era. It's made very clear that Dirk Bogarde is "one of the good ones". He is linked with two men in the movie, but both are from the past: we never see him interact with them on screen. And lest our imaginations run away from us, we are also told he was as pure as ice and chaste as snow with both of them, breaking off both relationships to save himself from temptation. This would be regarded as rather a mixed message nowadays, but in context makes sense: why risk alienating your audience? Prof Dyer, who taught me last year, suggests "Victim" also refers to the gay underground as "victims" not only of blackmail, but also of their biology - and indeed, the film does reinforce the idea that the poor devils just can't help it. The idea of it being a valid lifestyle choice is a very long way off. Much of the action tellingly takes place in the West End, and I think the presentation of the Mrs deserves study. I also wonder what audience reactions at the time were like.

Enough on the background, what of the film? Heartbreaking. Soul destroyingly, life crushingly heartbreaking. And an awful lot of fun. Comes recommended.

In other news: Why have I only just heard about "The Sea Wolves"? Surely, if someone was filming Guns of Navarone - Wild Geese crossover flicks, I should have been informed?
Copyright 2009 Cinecism. All rights reserved.
Free WordPress Themes Presented by EZwpthemes.
Bloggerized by Miss Dothy