Under the Cherry Moon
1986 • 100 minutes • Warner Bros.
Losing Prince last month affected me the same way losing Bowie in January did—abstractly. I was saddened, of course, but not hurt enough to want to take 2016 back to the celestial customer service counter. I just didn’t have a personal stake in either artist. For whatever reason, while Bowie and Prince’s music is prime territory for queer weirdos of all stripes, I never landed there to take sustenance. It’s certainly nothing they did. I just have a hard time connecting with music on that deep of a level.
Still, their passings into the Undying Lands were worthy of tribute from me. For Bowie, I lit my homemade David Bowie prayer candle for the first time (which I’d made last August, not, like, for the occasion) and saved a Best of Bowie Spotify playlist to my phone.
And for Prince? I watched Under the Cherry Moon with my comedy troupe from college.
Now, to be fair, Purple Rain was in contention as well, but, as a fan of the eighties, I wanted to watch Purple Rain for the first time in a different and slightly more worshipful context. A midnight movie crowd would be ideal, but I have lately discovered that my biorhythms are those of a medieval French farmer. My apparent biological directive to wake up at the crack of dawn (and, presumably, hike a mile up to the cheese cave to gently turn all those wheels of dairy forty-five degrees to the left) means that midnight movies are largely no longer an option. Je suis desolée.
So Under the Cherry Moon, Prince’s infamous flop, it was. If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Under the Cherry Moon (and, honestly, who would blame you?), let me sum up. Against a backdrop of the toniest denizens of the Riviera, Prince attempts to seduce $50 million dollars out of Kristin Scott Thomas in her first major film role. (It’s one she’d really rather you forget.)
Magic Mike XXL
2015 • 115 minutes • Warner Bros.
It’s true! It’s true! Everything Our Lady of Celebrity Gossip Anne Helen Petersen says about Magic Mike XXL is breathtakingly true. Not that I would ever doubt Our Lady of Celebrity Gossip, but I remain firmly suspicious of mainstream Hollywood at all times, especially when it comes to feminist credentials.
That truth? That Magic Mike XXL is a sun-soaked, beautifully shot hangout movie that replaces any silly ideas about a plot with vocally and visually centering and emphasizing (straight and male-attracted) female desire at every single opportunity. And elaborately choreographed stripping numbers. If Magic Mike was a understated film about a man coming into his own, Magic Mike XXL is practically a musical.
Like any musical, the plot is really only there to get the characters moving from set piece to set piece. Channing Tatum has described the film as “a stripper odyssey,” which isn’t a half-bad description (although, blissfully, there’s no Penelope fighting off suitors back home). After the events of Magic Mike XXL, the tattered remnants of the Kings of Tampa invite Mike to join them on a road trip to the delightfully untitled Stripper Convention in Myrtle Beach. After a little consideration, Mike happily hops onto the frozen yogurt party food truck and off they go, leaving torn tank tops and happy women everywhere they go.
based onThe Once and Future King by T. H. White
1967 • 179 minutes • Warner Bros.
Camelot is how Captain Cinema and I met. Back in at our small town high school in Georgia, our theater director screened it for our class, presumably trying to select the longest possible musical to keep the normal children out of his hair while the theater kids were complicating his life. (I’m guessing here, although I did later end up among the theater children.) “C’est Moi” began playing and we, seated next to each other, began mercilessly riffing it. (“I ‘ave come from France!” “Oh, yes, we very definitely heard you coming, Lancelot, that’s quite a pair of lungs on you, my good fellow.”) We’ve been friends ever since.
Despite that seminal adolescent screening of Camelot, I had no idea that the musical was based on T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Which is no credit to it in my eyes. The Once and Future King is one of those sf classics that most people seem quite fond of, but I could never quite get my hooks into. I’d say it was a French-American kid’s natural aversion to L’Angleterre, except that Arthurian mythology is really, really French. (Which is why J. R. R. Tolkien, ever the Anglo-Saxon, decided to give England a proper English mythology. And thus modern mainstream fantasy was born!) To very poorly caricature Jebediah Atkinson, I didn’t like it when it was a book, I didn’t like it when it was a musical, and I didn’t like it when it was a movie. NEXT!
Mad Max: Fury Road
2015 • 120 minutes • Warner Bros.
If you know me at all, you know that I love the eighties. Specifically, I love a specific aesthetics associated with American pop culture in the 1980s—that peculiar blend of heavy metal, speculative fiction, absurd hair, and high camp that I have designated old school sf. I actually define old school sf as existing from Star Wars (its introduction into the mainstream) to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (its legitimization in the mainstream), but it’s that extra eighties boost that so often drives me over the edge into snarling joy. Maybe it’s growing up on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, or perhaps it’s the best marriage of my camp sensibilities and my love of speculative fiction. Nonetheless, it hits and satisfies a very pure and primal part of myself.
But I gave up, a while ago, any hope of seeing that aesthetic—that old school sf aesthetic that’s equally interested in being totally kick-ass as being speculative fiction—applied in a big way that didn’t exclude me. While I adore old school sf so, so much, it’s usually par for the course that I will find female characters or queer characters (if they’re even present) being treated not so great. And that doesn’t even include how it sometimes poorly handles or straight up ignores great swathes of people, like people of color or disabled folk.
There are, mercifully, wonderful exceptions. Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe is a queer pagan feminist rock and roll fantasy. Every episode of Xena: Warrior Princess features two very different women kicking butt, taking names, and being devoted utterly to each other. But they weren’t the norm and they certainly weren’t the stuff that turns into the big budget stuff that often define a year or even a decade in media. Since speculative fiction is an inherently progressive genre, it makes sense to for us to have left a lot of that behind in its continuing mission to reflect the diverse people who use it to explore their own experiences of the world and thereby expand everyone else’s. As much as I adore old-school sf, I have no shortage of selections from the past. I have always been ready to sacrifice it for the future of speculative fiction.