This was one of the many times I burst into tears of happiness while reading my gorgeous Saturday Night Live Taschen book. They used the original logo for this bumper. My heart! My heart!
The One I Love
2014 • 91 minutes • RADiUS-TWC
I’ve gotten bolder about spoilers in recent years. (Years! I literally described my first book review as being “years ago” to someone the other day, which kind of blew my mind.) That’s gone hand in hand with a shift away from more traditional pros and cons promotion towards cracking open a text’s bones to get at that delicious, delicious bone marrow. And you can’t get at that stuff with hurling spoilers right and left. I’ve stopped reading reviews for books or films I absolutely know I am going to consume until after said consumption and started blatantly marking spoilers were appropriate. I like to think that I have come to term with spoilers.
And then a movie like The One I Love comes along (a year late, because, as we’ve established, I operate about a year behind when it comes to movies and a decade behind when it comes to television), and I just can’t spoil it for you. It’s not that The One I Love is entirely predicated on its twist and isn’t worth watching even if you know about it. It’s that the twist is all part of the film’s meditation on human interaction—the ways we can connect, the ways we can’t connect, the way we perceive ourselves, and the way we perceive others. The film eventually tries to explain the twist, somewhat ham-fistedly but in a way that leads to its utterly smashing final shot, but its best moments come when its sf elements are used to dissect the human condition.
2000 • 400 pages • Basic Books
Previously on the Literary Omnivore, I finished my review of Richard Ellman’s (widely considered) authoritative and eponymous biography of Oscar Wilde with a question—“can a biography make a sharper point”?
Joan Schenkar’s Truly Wilde is the biography that proves that they can. In illuminating the life of Oscar’s niece, Dorothy “Dolly” Wilde, the playwright and biographer asks what qualifies a subject for biography. By most mainstream standards, Dolly is not a conventional subject—she never published, she never edited, and she only occasionally deigned to translate. She’s difficult to track throughout history, vanishing from the historical record for years at a time and, when she did surface, always refusing to talk about her childhood. (She did have one story when pressed: a memory of dipping sugar cubes into her mother’s perfume and then eating them. Factual nor not, it usually got the mildly repulsed response Dolly seemed to want.) For all her comparisons (both hers and others) to her uncle and her sparkling, attention-seeking behavior (she once injected herself with a drug in the middle of an otherwise respectable dinner party quite on purpose), Dolly Wilde was a woman who avoided, by chance or by choice, the spotlight.
Or, as Schenkar puts it: “Dolly Wilde’s life offers a rare opportunity to look at what it means to live with the endowments but not the achievements of biography’s usual subjects: those obliterating ‘winners’—like Dolly’s uncle Oscar—whose notorious stories have almost erased interesting histories like Dolly’s own” (7).
It’s been a busy week for me! I’ve been writing and trying to put the finishing touches on some spring cleaning projects. I also had the opportunity to meet up with Eva yesterday, which was lovely!
I join in Cass’s Queering Wilde month with “”My Wallpaper and I are Fighting’: Wilde and the Quip” over at Queerly Seen.
Renay and I continue our adventures in Xena: Warrior Princess with episode 106, “The Reckoning” at ladybusiness.
The House of Yes
1997 • 85 minutes • Miramax Films
If you ask me, the point of taking a text from stage to screen is to expand it.
(Of course, not many people would ask me, with my dim grasp on theater. Yeah, I was a student actress through high school and college, but I’ve only recently realized that I’m not quite sure why.)
Theater is inherently intimate; film is inherently epic. Both are capable of the other, of course, but those inherent qualities are functions of form. Theater demands that the audience be present in the moment (or at least present to it), while film relies on both its ability to astonish and the well-established rituals of film-going to reach the audience. There is a certain safety in film that theater lacks; no matter how much a film breaks the fourth wall, it can’t capture the immediate terror of not knowing if the actor on stage is actually engaging with you or not that pins you to the present moment.
And that’s why The House of Yes falls a little flat in its cinematic incarnation. For those unfamiliar with the play, Wendy MacLeod’s The House of Yes follows the Pascals on Thanksgiving. Their status as long-time neighbors of the Kennedys has influenced their lives, despite their declining fortunes. Mrs. Pascal remains committed to decorum, despite her inability to run a house; unstable daughter Jackie-O is obsessed with Jacqueline Onassis and JFK; younger brother Anthony is deeply unsocialized; and Jackie-O’s twin brother, Marty, is attempting to pretend at a normal life when he brings home his sudden, homespun fiancée, Lesly. A hurricane strands them at the Pascals’ home, even after it becomes apparent that the family disapproves of Lesly, and different members of the family try to reveal and conceal their various secrets.
The play’s power (I imagine, having never seen it staged) lies in those moments of immediate terror—the will they or won’t they of the incestuous twins at the heart of the play. I spent my viewing occasionally rolling my eyes at how the film teases the twincest, when it’s so obvious what’s going on. (Of course, I am a modern woman living in a world where TV Guide makes winking wordplay about Cersei and Jaime Lannister, so maybe it was different in the nineties.) The play itself, which, if not well-produced, could probably end up seeming like a parody of modern theater: the intense focus on conversation, the big emotional beats, the handing off of focus so that everybody in the ensemble gets something meaty.
It seems so inherently theatrical that a film version seems largely to function as a record of it. Which is no mean thing, given how many times I’ve wailed that I’d never be able to see X musical or Y play because it would never be produced around me. (Another way in which theater is maddeningly present: you have to be present for it.) But when you’re adapting a play to film, you’re exchanging immediacy for scope. This is why Les Misérables is so nail-bitingly maddening—for a musical that seems almost entirely about challenging the scope of theater, the film is content to trot at its characters’ heels and never really show the world they live in. The House of Yes does largely the same thing, highlighting the claustrophobia of the house in a very plain way. To put that positively, it’s simply being very faithful, but I’ve never been a big proponent of faithful adaptations.
Because when it does do something specifically cinematic with its story, that’s where the movie succeeds. The home movie that opens the film, featuring a fourteen year old Jackie-O in the tasteless costume, is a stroke of genius, introducing us to Jackie-O as both a young, sympathetic girl and as someone clearly unhinged. Jackie-O and Marty, doing shots at the elegantly set Thanksgiving table, shot entirely in profile as they chug. Jackie-O triumphantly revealing to Lesly that she and Marty definitely had sex the night before by putting her arm around her brother and letting her costume’s blazer fall open just enough to reveal her bra. And Lesly talking Marty down from his family’s influence by describing their life in New York together, over beautifully lush shots of cloying coupledom that draw them in so completely that they respond to Jackie-O’s flushing of Marty’s keys down the toilet from within that remembered fantasy.
But they are few and far between, and the film largely starts to feel like an exercise—although I have to wonder if that’s not just my personal history with theater butting in. (Ha! Of course it is! Subjectivity is the only reality!) Still, it’s fascinating to see Parker Posey, an actress I’m more familiar with in softer fare like Covert Affairs and Imagine Me And You (speaking of Cersei Lannister…), deliver such a brittle, spiteful, and human performance as Jackie-O. There’s something twisted in Jackie-O’s eyes that’s frighteningly engaging.
So perhaps it does manage to bring theater to film after all.
I streamed this film on Netflix.
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise: Part 2
by Gene Luen Yang and Studio Gurihiru
2012 • 76 pages • Dark Horse Books
Of all the magnificently drawn characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, I might like Toph Bei Fong and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe the most. I have a soft spot for nearly all of them, but Toph and Sokka face particular challenges that make them stand out. Toph is a girl whose blindness and status has made people refuse to see her as a whole human being, keeping her from achieving her full potential as the greatest earthbender the world has ever seen. Sokka, besides being a glorious nerd with a penchant for shopping, is the only member of the Gaang who isn’t a bender and occasionally feels ignored, set aside, or just lesser because of it. The series doesn’t go too far down that path, but it’s present enough to form the foundation for the first series of Legend of Korra.
(Which I still haven’t finished. Yes, I know, bad fandom queer, bad!)
Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Promise: Part 2 (punctuation is taking quite a bruising today here on the blog), obviously, furthers the A plot of the comic—the psychological torment of Fire Lord Zuko as he tries to determine what’s best for the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom and Aang circling the question of keeping his promise to kill Zuko should the Fire Lord begin behaving like his tyrannical father. Unfortunately, the only way Zuko can get any information about his presumedly deceased mother is by visiting his imprisoned father daily, and his father’s theories about morality (namely, that those in power get to determine what is and isn’t moral) are seeping into his unconsciousness. Aang tries to run interference with the Earth King, but the Earth King’s previous blindness to the Fire Nation’s invasion of the Earth Kingdom has made him determined to fight fire with fire. (Pun entirely intended.)
It was my birthday this past week, and, as a gift to myself, I bought myself my very first Taschen—the Saturday Night Live book, obviously. I haven’t been able to bring myself to take the shrink wrap off yet, but I’ll take photos when I do.
This Is Us
2013 • 92 minutes • Columbia
I learned about Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction via Arabelle Sicardi’s Twitter feed, which, since she delivered it with images of Zayn frolicking with dogs, was one of the better ways to learn about the news.
“Oh, no,” I moaned. “This is all my fault. I start researching One Direction conspiracy theories and the whole damn thing’s gone up in flames!” (I soothed myself via Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” for the rest of the afternoon.)
A week prior, Captain Cinema and I had watched A Hard Day’s Night, finally utilizing her Hulu Plus subscription for something other than classic Saturday Night Live. A Hard Day’s Night could not be a more joyous film; energetic, wry, and just getting better with age. If you haven’t watched it or just haven’t watched it recently, please go do so at your earliest convenience. I think it must be very good luck to start off spring with a picture like that. (I’m aware that the spring solstice was in March, but, as an early Aries, I more or less believe that spring starts after I’ve gotten my tax refund, Easter candy goes on sale, and I’ve eaten my birthday cake.) It got a conversation about boy bands going, which, naturally, led to the both of us independently deciding that we should watch One Direction’s feature film debut, This Is Us. Conspiracy theory research followed.
by Richard Ellmann
2013, originally published 1987 • 736 pages • Vintage
How do you evaluate a biography?
Different books do different things, but few have so specific a goal as the biography. A biography seeks to illuminate one human’s life; any adaptive readings… well, that’s what historical fiction is for. Group biographies do require a thesis (why do these stories need to be told plurally instead of singularly?) but the singular biography, especially the singular biography about an Important Literary Figure, needs no such explanation for its existence. And if the biographer doesn’t make themselves known or makes themselves intrusive (which are both two sides of the same coin), then I never really feel like a biography is a product of a specific biographer—it seems like just the facts, ma’am.
When I read nonfiction, I feel like I turn into my friend Science Princess, who is so enchanted and fascinated by our world that fiction holds little allure for her. Whatever literary flaws they possess usually get a pass, because I’m learning! After all, I’m a fan—I’m well-used to stripping narratives down for spare parts and scant representation. At least reality has a marrow for me to strip down to.
So… I’ve been really busy this week!
I’ve joined forces with the always wonderful Cass at Queerly Seen for Queering Wilde, a month long project examining and reclaiming Wilde through a queer lens. As a queer Irish(-ish) woman, Wilde is a huge part of several of my histories. I also got to read Truly Wilde for this, so feel free to ask me about Natalie Barney and I will tell you an awesome story about Natalie Barney. I’ll link to the pertinent reviews as necessary.
I’m also over at ladybusiness for my biweekly Xena: Warrior Princess column with Renay. This week: “The Path Not Taken.”
Oh, and The Book Smugglers recently announced the table of contents for Speculative Fiction 2014, which includes a sparkling list of sf’s finest… as well as yours truly. I’m just over the moon about it and can’t wait to read the whole anthology. It hits stores in May and all proceeds are donated to Room to Read.