Madonna: Truth or Dare
1991 • 122 minutes • Miramax Films
Of my problematic faves, Madonna is probably one of the most high-profile. I’m not sure when I fell for Madonna. I know when I first became aware of her—the morning after the 2003 MTV Music Awards, during which she kissed both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera during a performance of “Hollywood” staged as homage to her twenty year old performance of “Like a Virgin” at the inaugural MTV Music Awards. What was edgy then (well, edgy to a bus full of middle schoolers in Georgia in the early aughts) is now obvious as queerbaiting.
That’s the problem with provocation for the sake of provocation—it doesn’t age well. See how I recoiled from Madonna’s early nineties ouvre when I finally sat down and plowed through her discography a few years ago. But Madonna has never been just provocation. I enjoy her songwriting, her inventiveness, her willingness to explore, and her ability to stay relevant through sheer willpower. I like strong-minded women, who could have possibly guessed. Nonetheless, as much as I’ve been enjoying her recent work, I have been fixated of late on Madonna’s first incarnation: the club kid captured in Desperately Seeking Susan.
Rock She Wrote
edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers
2014 (originally published 1995) • 496 pages • Plexus Publishing
Have I ever mentioned how much I love reading women’s voices in chorus? I always love learning about women in community, especially when it involves women that the powers that be prefer to isolate, such as Jane Austen in the Western canon (did you know Jane Austen was influenced by Fanny Burney?) or Dolly Wilde as a footnote in Oscar Wilde’s history. Anthologies of women’s writing can sound a little dry, but something like Women in Clothes can be so astonishing just by the sheer variety of voices it entails. Feminine experience is multifaceted, varied—we’re so often denied this truth in even supposedly progressive media that to encounter it all at once is a choice experience.
Rock She Wrote fights back against the (white, straight) boys’ club of criticism by presenting a sample of over thirty years’ worth of writing on rock, pop, and rap. Editors Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, in the introduction, describe both the motivation for curating the collection and the treasure hunt of tracking down authors, soliciting recommendations, and hunting for lost fanzines. (As someone who dreams of discovering some secret trove of eighties Star Wars slash zines, I can relate.) And, blissfully, it’s not just a collection of straight white female authors—women of color and queer women also have their voices represented here.
Stop Making Sense
1984 • 88 minutes • Cinecom Pictures
This is not particularly a review of Stop Making Sense.
I don’t know if that’s something I can actually write. The film is complete and whole and unassailable. I don’t think it read to the audiences who literally danced in the aisles upon its theatrical release in 1984 the same way it now reads to us, a little over thirty years later. Its rightful place as one of the greatest concert films ever made has lacquered it into something quite other, like an alien transmission from the almighty eighties. In “Stop Making Sense: An Appreciation,” Noel Murray dwells on several elements of the film that now appear studied and prearranged that were never planned at all. Through planning, execution, and sheer force of will, David Byrne and Jonathan Demme’s creation has transformed into a unique experience, blasting the Talking Heads’ determined creations almost directly into your brain.
And I find that level of musical intimacy suffocating in a way that I feel guilty about.
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.
Afrofuturism by Ytasha L. Womack
Recently, Noah screenwriter Ari Handel told The High Calling that the reason a film based on the Hebrew Bible featured an entirely white cast was that “this story is functioning at the level of myth, and as a mythical story, the race of the individuals doesn’t matter. They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people.” The concept of the white male as supposedly universal subject is disgusting enough, but such a precisely vague statement only brings to mind the various Old White Dudes screaming themselves red over people of color or women asking to be treated like people in the sf community. (I haven’t heard of anyone specifically protesting queer folk getting involved, but it’s only a matter of time.) Handel and men like Dave Truesdale are implying the same thing: marginalized communities and speculative fiction have nothing to do with each other.
1963: The Year of the Revolution by Robin Morgan and Ariel Leve
In the course of human history, teenagers are a fairly recent invention. Of course, humanity’s always gone through adolescence, but as a social construct, young adulthood was really developed after World War II, when post-war prosperity meant that teenagers had money—and, therefore, agency—for the first time en masse. Add to that the baby boom, and you’ve got yourself prime conditions for changing the culture.
Louder Than Hell by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman
As you might surmise by my love of Rock of Ages and all things eighties, I like glam metal. I was practically reared on a copy of ABBA Gold, so I’m instantly drawn to anything with a singalong chorus and a look. But, as a kid, the only musical genres I really understood were “eighties,” “emo,” and “country.” (The only extent to which I indulged in defining my identity musically in middle school and high school was to sneer at country, a time-honored but ultimately cruel tradition.) “Metal” encompassed too many seemingly disparate elements for me to wrap my head around—KISS was definitely metal; Rammstein was German and therefore inherently metal; but where did Fred Durst come into all this and why was he so terrifying?
Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson
While the Thirty-Three and a Third series started in 2003, I distinctly remembering seeing them everywhere last year about this time. The local music shop next to my college boasted a fair few, and even a used bookstore I ventured into miles away during a library conference had a complete set. But I was probably noticing them because I’d just decided to take music as seriously as I took the rest of my popular culture intake. I listened to the Beatles discography for the first time, started a playlist on Spotify entitled “Homework,” and started trying to move away from my singles-focused grazing method of musical appreciation. The series seemed like a great supplement to what I was doing, but Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste seemed the best place to start. Not because of my own musical taste—the more overproduced, cheesy, and artificial, the better, frankly—but because Wilson was tackling something almost antithetical to his own musical identity. An open-minded exploration of musical taste seemed the perfect place to start.
Don’t Stop Believin’ by Brian Raftery
If you’ve been reading this blog long, you’ll know that I adore bad music. The cheesier the more bombastic, and the more overproduced, the better, in my opinion. Accordingly, my karaoke song is “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” (I do both voices and, if the mood strikes, the synthesizer.) And yet, while wailing eighties power ballads to a crowd of strangers is a telling allegory for my life, I shy away from singing with people. It’s not stage fright—the public or an audience don’t register as “people” to me, so I can do that fine. It’s just that music, for me, can be intensely personal: I have songs that I adore that I will only listen to once in a very long while and songs I can’t listen to any more because they remind me of certain times in my life that I don’t want to revisit.
The Times of the Eighties edited by William Grimes
In 2005, MTV ran a program, undoubtedly influenced by the success of That 70s Show, called The 70s House. It was a reality competition where twelve contestants parted with the modern world, lived in a simulcrum of the seventies 24/7, and competed to see who could be “the most 70s”. I never saw it, but when I heard about it, as a tender, awful-haired fourteen-year-old, I daydreamed about the possibility of a The 80s House, which I would undoubtedly dominate. Such a show never surfaced, of course, but something like The Times of the Eighties would have been very useful to prep for my audition. When I saw it on NetGalley, I couldn’t hit the request button fast enough.