The Vintner’s Luck
by Elizabeth Knox
2000 (originally published 1998) • 284 pages • Picador USA
You know how you can spot a period film made in the nineties? Well, I’m going to be no help, because I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know it when I see it. Like in Restoration—there’s something about the production design. The quality of the costumes. The Meg Ryan. It might be set in the 1600s, but a single frame can tell you that it was released in 1995. Never mind the fact that it can be carbon-dated by the fullness of Robert Downey Jr.’s lips. (This is why I nearly crawled out of my seat and over the very sweet Spider-Man fan when young!Tony appeared in Captain America: Civil War. His mouth was wrong.)
The same is true of, for some reason, most queer-minded media made in the late nineties and early aughts that I’ve consumed. Velvet Goldmine and The Vintner’s Luck have nothing else in common besides “dudes kiss in them” (oh, and shirtlessness, I guess?), but the quality of the atmosphere is quite similar—heady, languid, rarefied.
Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
2012 • 451 pages • Hyperion Books
So… remember when Code Name Verity was making the rounds four years ago? Yeah, I finally got around to it last week. My lead time and my list of books to read grows longer every day, cats and kittens, but, you know, I’m a busy lady. I do busy lady things and sometimes I do them for four years before picking up a book. No big deal.
Except it kind of feels like a big deal, which is why I’m mentioning it.Code Name Verity is exactly the kind of young adult book that haunted me when I worked at the bookstore, because it came so highly recommended. World War II! Lady spies! An emphasis on female friendship being as life-altering and important as any romance! What wasn’t there to like? So I tenderly shelved it and its sister volume, Rose Under Fire, and then moved across the country and promptly forgot about it entirely until a spin through my reading list brought it back to my attention.
Letting a book percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. Letting any media percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. It often results in something like that heart-stopping moment I experienced, putting Velvet Goldmine into my laptop at college, wondering if it could possibly live up to the decade of furtive hype I’d spent on it?
It did, obviously, as I’ve managed to stuff in a reference to Velvet Goldmine in a review of a young adult novel set during World War II. Code Name Verity, despite having a shorter time to percolate in the old noggin… not so much.
2016 • 100 minutes • Universal Pictures
I am not an acolyte of the Coen brothers. I even thought I’d never seen a Coen brothers movie until a friend of mine helpfully pointed out that I’d seen both O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Fargo. This lack of attention and devotion is no slam on them—I do want to see Inside Llewelyn Davis for reasons that are totally not related to Oscar Isaac—but rather more an indicator of where I stand in the landscape of American cineastes.
So I was sold much more on the setting—1950s Hollywood, in that last gasp of the studio system—than on the directors. And, of course, on the promise of Channing Tatum dancing. It’s now a commonly acknowledged fact that Channing Tatum’s moves will bring in the masses. This is how Magic Mike XXL was willed into existence by all of America, the same way we got Keith Richards into Pirates of the Caribbean.
based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
2015 • 118 minutes • The Weinstein Company
I’ve been thinking about Todd Haynes recently, largely because I recently watched a fanedit of the Star Wars prequels and that reminded me to watch Velvet Goldmine. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that Haynes directed both Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven. They’re both pitch-perfect period pastiches of very, very different times and places.
Which makes him a perfect choice for adapting The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith’s midcentury lesbian romance novel. It’s been an interesting journey into propriety for The Price of Salt—Highsmith originally published it under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan and didn’t claim it as her own work for decades, and now it’s been given the sort of classy, stylish, and polished treatment that will undoubtedly garner it attention and awards come awards season. (Which is not that far away!) This is not, to randomly grab a recent disappointing mainstream film about ladies in love, Jenny’s Wedding, offering remedial lessons on lesbian identity and apologetically tap-dancing around anything a very narrow segment of the audience might find uncomfortable (i.e, expressing romantic same-sex affection). This is a glossy retro drama in its fullest flush that rightfully assumes that anyone interested in seeing this picture is going to be more than fine with its content and wastes absolutely no time on coddling a close-minded audience.
2012 • 130 minutes • Columbia Pictures
Anonymous holds a special place in my biography—it’s the film that introduced me to theaters that serve real food while you watch, planting the seeds for my lifelong devotion to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I saw Anonymous because I knew an underclasswoman in college who desperately wanted to see it. But the only place showing the film was a weird theater on the north side of town, so she needed somebody with a car, a free afternoon, and the willingness to submit themselves to Anonymous. And I, connoisseur of bad cinema, was that somebody. Off we went to Cinebistro, a restaraunt/theater joint with luxuriously cushy seats, a full bar, and twenty minutes of previews. I fell in love instantly.
And as for Anonymous? Well, Anonymous may well be one of the greatest bad movies of our times.
The House of Shattered Wings
by Aliette de Bodard
2015 • 402 pages • Gollancz
Urban fantasy is a hard sell for me. It’s not that I dislike the genre as a whole, but more that I was never exposed to sufficient amounts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a kiddo to develop a taste for it. (Instead, I was exposed to super sufficient amounts of Warcraft and The Legend of Zelda. This means that I bleed unicorns and also means that when it comes to the new Warcraft movie, I am a reverse Alien vs. Predator: no matter if it’s bad or good, I still win.)
So The House of Shattered Wings never even made it on my radar until Tor.com republished author Aliette de Bodard’s “On Colonialism, Evil Empires, and Oppressive Systems” back in September. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it; it is necessary and searing. It made me so excited for The House of Shattered Wings, despite my disinclination for urban fantasy, that I got nervous. (Although it’s not like that’s difficult.) Even after I started reading the thing, I’ve been Johnnie come lately to enough series that I was briefly terrified that I’d rented the second in the series. (This may seem unwarranted, but Memory’s review of An Apprentice to Elves excited me so much I accidentally rented The Tempering of Men instead of the book in question.)
Perhaps urbane fantasy is the best generic moniker to toss The House of Shattered Wings’ way—this is, after all, a novel set in the ruins of Belle Époque Paris, devastated not by World War I but by the war in heaven, brought forward several millennia. Continue reading
The Phantom of the Opera
based on the musical based on the novel
2004 • 143 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures
Crimson Peak’s box office may not be what Universal wanted, but I have been having a ball seeing it hit home with its intended audience: gothically and/or Romantically inclined women of all ages. I’ve seen (and, of course, promptly misplaced) tumblr commentary indicating that this was exactly what they yearned for as preteens when their mainstream and more current peers were focused elsewhere. All of this delighted sighing over romance and stylized frights brought me back to my own adolescence.
In 2004, back when I was a young preteen full of unspeakable urges (queer ones, not Byronic hero urges—well, not those Byronic hero urges), it was The Phantom of the Opera that captured the bloody hearts of the preteen Romantic hordes.
I mean, let’s face it: The Phantom of the Opera boasts a lot of similar elements as Crimson Peak. Beautiful, crumbling architecture, death looming in the shadows, young love, beautiful young women rising above their stations, gorgeous costumes, and brooding. Of course, there’s a Phantom in the sewers of Paris rather than [SPOILER REDACTED] in the attic, but both looming threats are surprisingly seductive. Oh, and there’s songs.
2012 • 111 minutes • Relativity Media
On this, All Hallow’s Eve Eve, let me spin you a spooky tale, dear readers. Of a desaturated period movie from 2012. Concerning a famous American historical figure. Set in the Mid-Atlantic in the 19th century. Whose frames are splattered with CGI blood. Lots and lots of CGI blood. (I guess when it’s digital, it’s free!) And, of course, featuring historically accurate sunglasses.
What’s that, reader mine? No, I’m not talking about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! No, that would be exciting, because there would at least be supernatural nasties at work (and Dominic West working some sick sunglasses). Although, having not seen it, I can’t authoritatively say if it’s exciting or not. In any case, my kittens, we are instead talking of The Raven, 2012’s other strange high-concept historical movie that came from beyond Grimdark Canyon for what surely must be some good reason. If only the film could think of it.
2015 • 119 minutes • Universal Pictures
Selling Crimson Peak to modern audiences has proved difficult for Universal Pictures this weekend. Difficult to the tune of $26.3 million in domestic and international box offices, which is quite low. Competing against the much more accessible Bridge of Spies and The Martian, both currently in theaters, definitely doesn’t help.
How do you even effectively promote a classic Gothic romance to a marketplace unfamiliar with the genre? Universal’s solution has been to market Crimson Peak as pure horror, playing up the (damnable!) jump scares and atmosphere. And I don’t know if there’s a better solution, although I wish there was so that Guillermo Del Toro could, I dunno, make Pacific Rim 2 and Hellboy 3 with as much money as he needs. I just hope enough people take the gamble as is, because Crimson Peak is well worth it.
My exposure to Gothic romance has been limited to Mary Shelley, two-thirds of the Brontë sisters, and Austen’s supremely delightful skewering of the genre in Northanger Abbey. It’s from the latter that I have any real sense of the tropes inherent to the genre. And even that sense is a little muddled: I spent a lot of Crimson Peak banking on vampires. (I am not spoiling or ruining the film to let you know that no, there are no vampires. Just good old-fashioned wickedness.)
1999 • 100 minutes • 20th Century Fox
Says The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Ravenous:
Part allegorical period horror, part black comedy, and dosed with satirical and homoerotic overtones, the film—a troubled project that swapped directors early on, and opened to indifferent audiences and reviews—remains one of the genuine studio-backed curios of the 1990s.
So, you know, SOLD, especially after completing my summer of Hannibal and wailing in its wake. (Will I ever stop wailing into the floorboards about Hannibal? Not as long as The Hazards of Love is on my iPhone.)
Ravenous is a strange and largely forgotten film, despite being part of Fox 2000 Pictures’ 1999 output, which included cult classic Fight Club. And that makes sense: it’s easier to market disaffected white guys hitting each other than a period cannibal movie far less interested in gore than in damning westward expansion.
But that’s a shame, because Ravenous is just as worthy a cult classic as Fight Club is. It’s moody and atmospheric and deeply weird. It’s a quiet movie in a very minor chord that doesn’t ever succumb to the grand theatrical potential inherent in its subject matter. Cannibals and wendigos are real in the world of Ravenous, but they’re just men trying to survive, no matter how they try (and fail) to frame it.