Tag Archive | Movies

There wolf! There castle! why sf/f doesn’t have to be serious

Peter Boyle as the monster, choking Gene Wilder while Marty Feldman and Teri Garr partake in an impromptu game of Charades. (© 20th Century Fox)

Peter Boyle as the monster, choking Gene Wilder while Marty Feldman and Teri Garr partake in an impromptu game of Charades. (© 20th Century Fox)

I was fourteen years old when the movie Young Frankenstein was released. The small town where I lived had only one theatre, and it showed two movies each week. One played Monday through Thursday, I believe, and the other would play Friday through Sunday, sometimes with a matinee Saturday afternoon (but not always). No matter how sold out any show was, it didn’t stay past its scheduled three or four day run.

And I was, as far as I could tell, one of the few kids in my class on the Monday morning after the movie had shown, who hadn’t seen it. If the film was shown on network television in the next couple of years, I didn’t manage to see it. After my folks divorced and my mom, one sister, and I moved 1200 miles away, one of my new friends mentioned that Young Frankenstein had been re-released to theaters and was playing downtown. Back in the days before ubiquitous cable, movies on tape or disc, or the internet, movies were often re-released into theaters.

When I mentioned that I’d never seen it, my friends were aghast. The next thing I knew, we were piling into someone’s car and driving to the theatre. I loved the movie. I loved it so much, that I couldn’t stop talking about it. I kept telling anyone who would listen to me about the grandson of Victor Frankenstein, Frederick, who insists that his last name is pronounced Frohnkensteen, and is ashamed of his crazy grandfather’s work; but upon finding said grandfather’s journal becomes obsessed with bringing a dead man back to life, and the zany misadventures that follow.

My mom thought it sounded fun. And so a night or two later, I found myself standing in line at the theatre once more, this time with my mom and little sister.

The movie has more than a few jokes based on sexual innuendoes, which it didn’t even occur to me might not be appropriate for my eleven-year-old sister, let alone what Mom might think of it. And both of them were laughing at all the same places I was, so everything was going fine. Until we reached the point where the Creature kidnaps Frederick’s fiancé, Elizabeth.

And then, panic started to set in. Because what happens next is that the Creature and Elizabeth have sex (in a scene that is a casebook example of pop culture’s long entanglement with rape culture). During which Elizabeth falls in love with the Creature because he has an enormous “schwanzstucker.”

Mom was a Bible-thumping Southern Baptist. Yes, she was also a science fiction fan, but her open-mindedness only went so far. And I had brought her and my little sister to a movie where a central turning point of one of the subplots is a woman falling in love with a stranger because of the size of his penis.

I was quite certain that I was going to wind up being grounded for life. Obviously Mom was going to be very upset. And I should have realized that she would be and mentioned the scene as soon as she suggested we go see the movie! I sunk down in my seat, bracing for an angry outburst.

The scene with the Creature began, and I just sank down lower in my seat. Then when the sex happens (the movie was rated PG, so you don’t even see either character get undressed, it’s only implied that the Creature unzipped his pants), and Madeline Kahn, who played Elizabeth starts singing in an exaggerated operatic style, “Oh! Sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!”

Mom started laughing. I looked over, and she wasn’t merely chuckling. She was guffawing loudly, covering her mouth to try not to disturb the rest of the audience (many of whom were laughing, but not that hard) and doubling over like she was going to fall out of her seat. A minute or two later her laughter subsided and she was wiping her eyes. She leaned over and whispered, “We probably shouldn’t have brought your little sister to see this!”

My sister asked mom what was so funny, and mom started laughing again.

A day or so later Mom had a slightly more serious talk with me about the importance of evaluating shows and books and such I might let my sister see as to whether they were appropriate, but she wasn’t angry. She said the only other thing she was disappointed in about the show was that we couldn’t immediately re-watch the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein right afterward.

Some time later a pair of the friends who took me to the film the first time re-enacted the “Need a hand?” “No, thanks! Have one,” scene when Mom was around, and she asked them to do it again. And they started to, but it morphed into a re-enactment of the scene in the blind man’s cottage instead. For the rest of the evening we were quoting funny lines from the film at each other. I think it was that evening that Mom explained her view of all the ways that the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein had alluded to love, romance, and even sex. Though we stayed away from any mention of the Creature’s schwanzstucker.

It should come as no surprise that two of the friends who were so aghast that I had never seen Young Frankenstein were the same pair who, a couple years later, dragged me to my first performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. All the sexual situations in Young Frankenstein are hetero and heteronormative, but there was still a strain of the transgressive running throughout. Young Frankenstein didn’t have the same effect on my own self awareness as Rocky Horror, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an important landmark in my understanding of the possibilities of science fiction and fantasy.

And I wasn’t the only nerd to think so. The year after it was released, Young Frankenstein won the Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation. And the Science Fiction Writers of America awarded Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder a Nebula Award for the screenplay. The film also won four Saturn Awards. The film displays a great deal of fondness for the Universal Frankenstein films (there’s even a line of dialog about how the village elders have endured all of this five times before, though that’s a miscount since the Universal series actually has six movies: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and House of Frankenstein). Young Frankenstein was a humorous parody, yes, but it also served as both a deconstruction and homage at the same time.

And it’s a funny film! And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Thank you, Mr. Wilder

Gene Wilder, Gilda Radnor, and Dom DeLuise on the poster for Haunted Honeymoon. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Orion Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.

Gene Wilder, Gilda Radnor, and Dom DeLuise on the poster for Haunted Honeymoon. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Orion Pictures, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. (Click to embiggen)

For many years, Haunted Honeymoon has been my go-to movie for fixing a bad mood. Written, directed, and starring Gene Wilder (along with Gilda Radner, Dom DeLuise, and Jonathan Pryce), it is a silly thrilling tale set in the 1930s. Radio actors Larry Abbott and Vicky Pearle are the stars of the wildly successful Manhattan Mystery Theatre and are engaged to be married, but Larry’s recent erratic behavior has their sponsor ready to cancel the show. Larry’s uncle, Paul Abbott is a “famous psychiatrist” who claims that Larry’s recent engagement had opened a crack in Larry’s mind which can only be cured by forcing Larry to confront his worst fears—to scare him “to death.” Which he’s going to attempt to do while the entire Abbott family is gathered at the country estate of their Great-aunt Katherine.

Aunt Kate (played hilariously by Dom DeLuise in drag), meanwhile, has recently changed her will so that Larry inherits everything. Unless Larry predeceases her, at which point the inheritance goes to all the other Abbotts equally. And someone is stalking Kate’s home in a cheesey werewolf mask, and has already killed one person…

I can’t explain why the show works so well for me. Is it the banter and onscreen chemistry between Gilda and Gene (this was the last movie they made together; mysterious pain she kept feeling during filming was later diagnosed as the ovarian cancer that eventually killed her)? Is it Dom’s hysterical performance as Aunt Kate? Especially the song and dance number Kate and Vicky perform in the music room after dinner? Is it Jonathan Pryce’s delicious performance as the slightly sleazy cousin Charlie? Or Eve Ferret’s vampy turn as Charlie’s girlfriend (and Larry’s ex-) Sylvia?

I don’t know. But I love the movie. My husband always makes certain that we have a copy on more than one of our computers when we go on long trips, in case I wind up in a dismal or vicious mood because things go awry.

Last night I watched it, and I enjoyed it as always. But for the first time I was crying at the end. Because yesterday the world learned that Gene Wilder had died the night before.

I love other movies Gene made. I was ten years old when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out. The town we lived in at that time didn’t have a movie theatre. But a mere thirty miles away, just over the border in neighboring Colorado, my grandparents lived in a town that did have a theatre. And I and my sister and Mom all went to see the movie along with my paternal grandmother one summer evening. I loved it, of course. I had read book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a couple of years previously. I remember early on in the movie thinking that they weren’t following the book very faithfully. But once Wilder came out and started playing the mad, bewildering Willy Wonka, I decided that the movie got it right.

I don’t watch this movie as often. Although many people love Wilders’ Willy Wonka even more than I do, my husband had a very different reaction to the film as a child. It gave him nightmares—severe enough that he just can’t watch the show even now as an adult.

And of course I re-watch Young Frankenstein at least once a year. Quoting along and laughing throughout. It’s a brilliant comedy and parody.

The only other of his films I currently own is Blazing Saddles which I hadn’t watched in a long while, so I watched it as well, last night. Gene was good in that, though with not nearly as much screen time as I’d have liked.

Gilda and Gene from a scene early in Haunted Honeymoon. Gene is literally "awoo"-ing in this one.

Gilda and Gene from a scene early in Haunted Honeymoon. Gene is literally “awoo”-ing in this one.

I love Gene isn so many of his roles: Willy, Dr. FRON-ken-STEEN, Larry, the Waco Kid… We have his movies to enjoy again and again. And we need to remember the sentiment his family expressed in their official announcement, along with the explanation for why Gene didn’t publicly reveal his health problem: he couldn’t stand the thought of even one less smile in the world. He put many smiles into the world. And yes, many of us shed some tears yesterday, but I know re-watching his movies will bring smiles and laughs instead of tears again. Just not today.

I ain’t afraid of no dude-bros, or just call me a Ghost Girl, too!

Salty snacks that literally are named Salty

Photo courtesy of the awesome @OsakaJack

In addition to writing about how much fun I had both times I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie on this blog yesterday, I’ve also mentioned it several times on Twitter over the weekend. I’ve mentioned the movie by name, I’ve tweeted: about how much I liked it, how much I love the character of Holtzman, what a good job Chris Hemsworth did playing a bimbo, and recommended that other people see it. And the only reactions I’ve received are either people agreeing with me or saying they want to check it out. I have even mentioned more than once that I went back to see the movie a second time.

On the other hand, a friend of mine mentioned that she was getting in line to see the movie again, and immediately her tweets were replied to by a bunch of random internet guys spewing various derogatory comments. Accusing her of getting in line again to “make up for it being a flop” (which it isn’t; Sony is very happy with the numbers), for instance. Explaining to her why she shouldn’t like it, and so forth. Several people have jumped in on it, including some guys claiming to be friends and not disagreeing with her, but upset that she isn’t tolerating the other dude’s opinions.

Why are her tweets getting that response and not mine? I did a little checking around on Twitter and saw several other male friends who have commented how much they liked the movie, and none of them are getting arguments from random internet dudes. But several women I am acquainted with have posted virtually identical comments about the movie, and they’re getting harassed.

And make no mistake: if you tell someone that they are “silencing”dissent when they don’t agree with you after you come into their space (which is what you are doing when you reply to someone’s tweet or blog post, et cetera) and tell them that their feelings are wrong, then you are harassing them. And when you’re a guy trolling through social media looking for women expressing opinions that so you can correct them, you are a mansplaining douche. I know you’re going around looking for women to argue with, because you’re ignoring nearly identical statements from other guys. You may not consciously realize you’re doing it, I’ll grant that, but when you see both my comments and my friend’s, but you only argue with her? Yeah, you’re being that kind of jerk.

And please, Internet dudes, don’t try to mansplain away another dude’s mansplaining.

You don’t have to like the movie. That’s fine. But don’t try to convince someone who has already seen the movie and loves it that they don’t actually like what they like. And don’t try to prove that the movie is bad. When you do that (when we do that) we’re being jerks.

And I say “we” because I slip up and do it, too. A lot. I have explicitly asked certain friends to tell me when I cross the line from trying to discuss something to bullying someone for disagreeing with me. It’s a behavior many of us learned growing up. When someone disagrees, we push back. It is so easy to go from pushing back to pushing down. 

Yeah, we made our opinion known publicly. You’re allowed to have a different opinion and express it in public. But don’t be a dick about it. Being a dick is not going to persuade the other person to agree. It isn’t. And here’s the thing: if what they like isn’t hurting you, there’s no reason to try to persuade the other person.

I push back hard on certain political topics because actual people die because of some policies that some people support. People dying, people living in poverty, people suffering injustice, people not being able to get health care… those are all things worth arguing about. But a goofy comedy? Let it go.

I want the new Ghostbusters movie to succeed because I loved it and I want to see more movies like it made. So yes, I’ve recommended it and told people how much fun I had and in some cases I’ve offered to buy people a ticket to see it. Because I genuinely believe they will enjoy the movie, perhaps as much as I did, but even more because I want us all to be able to enjoy more movies like this. I want little girls such as the one whose father posted a picture of the Ghostbusters costume she made with her existing toys to see movies like this and know they can be the hero, too. And yes, I want little boys to see this movie and know that their sisters and girl classmates and neighbors can be just as much a hero as they can. I want everyone to know that they can be someone’s hero.

Even you, dude bros. I want you to be heroes. And the first step is to stop being a mansplaining jerk. Salty is great when we’re talking about snack food (especially parabolic potato chips), but not in social interactions.

Bustin’ ghosts and laughing it up

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.18.59 AMI’m used to being disappointed in members of my own gender. Growing up a queer boy in very redneck communities in the 60s and 70s, I learned to be very careful around other guys, since you never knew which ones would turn into bullies the moment you accidentally expressed the wrong opinion, or pronounced something weird, or walked wrong, or… well, you get the picture. So I wasn’t completely surprised when a lot of a certain type of fanboy started spewing hate and rage at the fact that someone was rebooting Ghostbusters with one twist: our four ghost-hunting nerds would be played by women.

I was very shocked when a few male friends, specifically a few gay male friends, joined in. Particularly one who got angry and seething on line after the first trailer was released absolutely insisting it was a bad trailer and this was going to be an awful movie. Because I watched the trailer and couldn’t stop laughing.

One of the differences between me and a lot of the men hating on the movie before they ever saw it was that the original Ghostbusters movie was not part of my childhood. Because I was 23 years old when the movie was released in theatres. I saw it in a theatre with a bunch of my friends. And we laughed, and cheered, and howled with more laughter while watching it. For weeks afterward we kept quoting lines to each other and laughing more. Decades later, I still find ways to slip allusions to that movie into tabletop roleplaying scenarios I create and stories I write. I liked the movie a lot.

But I didn’t love every single moment of the original. I cringed at a lot of Bill Murray’s scenes. I kept wanting him to stop being a sleaze toward Sigourney Weaver’s character. It didn’t matter that most movies at the time featured men behaving in that slimey, sexually-harassing way. I didn’t like it when it happened in the other movies, either. But a lot of movies, especially comedies, have moments that make me feel like I need to apologize on behalf of my gender. While I laughed and cheered when the heroes beat the big bad at the end of the movie, I was always a little bit disappointed that there was no hint that Dr. Venkman had become less of a sexist sleaze ball. I had wanted him to have a redeeming moment with Dana Barrett, but it didn’t happen.

There were other moments, jokes that weren’t quite perfect. It was a good movie. It was a great way to spend some time laughing with friends. But it wasn’t perfect. And when I went back and watched the trailer for the original, I can’t exactly call it a masterpiece, either. It was funny, but actually it struck me as less engaging than the trailer for the new movie. So I figured that at least some of the guys who otherwise weren’t misogynist manbabies but were still reacting so negatively to the trailers, were doing so because they were remembering the first movie through the distortion of it being literally part of their childhood.

My husband and I saw the new Ghostbusters on Friday night. We laughed. We cheered. We applauded. We howled with more laughter.

And so did everyone else in the theatre with us.

It’s a good movie. It’s a funny movie. It is not a retread. It’s telling a similar story in a similar universe, but not the same story. The opening sequence is very creepy. Some of the jokes are in-jokes and allusions to the previous films, but not such in-jokes that they aren’t funny is you don’t know them. Don’t believe me, then read this review: A Ghostbusters Review From Someone Who’s Never Seen the Original Ghostbusters.

There’s also this review that compares the reactions to the Ghostbusters reboot to another sequel to another beloved-by-fanboys movie: What Are You Fighting for When You Fight the New Ghostbusters?. And then there’s this: Sorry Haters – Ghostbusters Might Actually Be Good although this latter reviewer is a lot more mealy-mouthed than he ought to be (I mean, come on, guy, you just watched the movie; you know whether or not you enjoyed it; stop writing this like an insecure person who isn’t sure of your own opinion unless it is validated by other guys!).

And don’t miss this one: Real Men Confirm the New Ghostbusters Didn’t Ruin Their Childhoods After All.

It’s a funny movie. Period. It’s a good movie. Period.

I’m not saying that only misognyist manbabies won’t like this movie… I’m just saying that every single negative review I have seen has demonstrated more than a little bit of a gender-based double standard. Every one.

So, I’m hoping this movie does well. Not just to prove the trolls and manbabies wrong, but because I really enjoyed laughing for two hours without one moment of cringing that made me embarrassed to be a guy. Because that’s an extremely rare thing in movies—but it’s something we need more of.

ETA: Sunday night I went to see the movie a second time with two friends (my husband wasn’t feeling well). I still liked it my second time. The theatre was packed, again. People laughed and cheered and clapped a many points in the movie. It’s a goofy comedy, yes. So was the original. I had a blast the second time, and still recommend it.

It’s about time – why Star Trek’s Sulu reveal is overdue

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

So the new Star Trek movie opens in general release in less than ten days, and word is out that the film includes a brief appearance of Sulu’s husband and their adopted child. George Takei (who originated the role of Sulu way back in 1966 when the episode “The Man Trap” first introduced audiences to the voyages of the starship Enterprise) has said this is unfortunate, because it violates the original vision of the character. George has become, over the last few years, America’s favorite gay (metaphorical) uncle, and frequently his comments on pop culture, queer rights, homophobia, and related topics are spot on. But he’s completely wrong here.

Make no mistake, George isn’t saying that Roddenberry didn’t want queer people in the future. George has spoken before about the conversations he had in the sixties with Roddenberry about addressing sexual orientation in the story. Roddenberry thought it would be a bridge too far for the networks. Roddenberry had already fought tooth and nail to get an African-American woman and a Japanese-American man on the regular cast in prominent roles—and he felt he was already skating on thin ice. Also, if you look at some of the writing Roddenberry did in the notes to other writers working on the series and on the first motion picture, you’ll find references to Kirk, at least, having had affairs with men at least at one point in his past. So it isn’t that George thinks Roddenberry and the original vision of Star Trek without queers, it’s that George thinks that Sulu was obviously straight in the original, and that a better option would be to introduce a new character.

There are more than a few problems with this line of reasoning. The most important is simply this: if the first unambiguously queer character introduced into the Star Trek universe is a minor character that no one has ever heard of before, that leads to automatic tokenism. The audience will, regardless of their own feelings about queer people in real life, naturally see this new character as the gay crewman. He won’t be seen as an integral part of the universe who just happens to be gay, he’ll be seen as the character being added for no other purpose than to check off a list. If, on the other hand, a character who is clearly integral to the story is revealed to have been queer all along, that his or her colleagues have known about the same sex spouse all along and none thought anything was odd or remarkable about it, that shows that Star Trek is the future Roddenberry envisioned: where people are accepted on the merits of their character above all else.

The less philosophical problem with George’s argument is the assertion that this is a radical re-imagining of the character of Sulu that throws out everything we already knew about him. I’m sorry, George, I love you, but there is nothing in the way that you played Mr. Sulu in the original series, nor in the scenes, dialog, and actions that we ever saw on-screen, that precludes him being queer. Sure, that’s that one deleted scene from Star Trek: the Motion Picture where Sulu tried to awkwardly come on to Lieutenant Ilia—but first, it’s a deleted scene, so isn’t really canon, and second, a bisexual or pansexual Sulu is still a queer Sulu who might well end up falling in love with a man and deciding to settle down.

I’m not trying to knock George Takei’s acting skills, here. I’m just saying that queer people and straight people often don’t act any differently in the vast majority of day-to-day situations. There are many reasons that a metric ton of Chekov/Sulu fanfic was written long before the motion pictures or the reboot movies existed, for instance.

Finally, if you think that Roddenberry’s original vision is the only way the story of the Star Trek universe should move forward, we should circle back to those odd notes of Roddenberry’s about Kirk’s sexual past. Roddenberry was an adherent of a belief that was prevalent among some liberal thinkers in the sixties that sexual orientation was merely a social construct. That every human was really, deep down, bisexual or pansexual, and any proclivities otherwise were merely the result of social conditioning. That view isn’t accepted any longer; medical science indicates something those of us who have grown up queer in a homophobic society have been saying for a long time, the sexual orientation is an innate quality. Some people are innately hetero, some innately bisexual or pansexual, et cetera.

But if we must rigorously adhere to Roddenberry’s original vision, then having Sulu in one timeline prefer men, and in another be ambiguous is perfectly fine.

Ultimately, I think that Simon Pegg and the current producers are right: the original series is silent on Sulu’s orientation. This isn’t a change or contradiction of anything we knew about the character before. And having a major character who is already part of the canon revealed to have a same sex spouse is the better way for Star Trek to embody a bit of Vulcan philosophy: that the universe is made up of infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

Weekend Update 5/21/2016: Ringtone Rhapsody and Beyond

Gizmodo brings us this little story of pianist Tony Ann who has created a short piano piece that incorporates the music of several popular ringtone, transforming them into brief melodic themes that are woven together into a song. It’s pretty cool!

Famous Cellphone Ringtones Played On The Piano (Tony Ann Arrangement):

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Yesterday a friend asked why I didn’t include anything about Oklahoma Lawmakers Passing a Bill Criminalizing Performing Abortion among the rest of the Friday Links. As I explained in the comments, their was so much ridiculous and outrage-inducing news out of Oklahoma this week (and a few other places), that on Thursday night while I was assembling the Friday Links post I reached a stage where I was seething. I was literally shaking so hard with rage that I could not sit still at the keyboard. I kept getting up and angrily pacing back and forth, muttering about how ludicrous it was. So I skipped over a chunk of the links I had bookmarked for the week and tried to move on to calming news.

Oklahoma was not one of the states I lived in as a child, but both my dad’s and Mom’s side of the family came from there, and I had a lot of relatives living there back in the day. My husband grew up in communities in Missouri and Oklahoma, and many of his closest relatives still live there. The upshot is that I have emotional ties to Oklahoma and keep hoping that it will become a better place than I recall it being. (While I was telling Michael about this update, he said, “There are reasons I always say that Oklahoma is a great place to be from!”) So here are a few other links that I could have included about Oklahoma yesterday:

Oklahoma lawmakers call ‘state of emergency’ to stop trans kids from using the restroom.

Transgender bathroom bills introduced in Oklahoma Legislature.

Oklahoma introduces measure to impeach Obama over bathroom rights.

Since then, there is some slightly better news. Midday Friday, the governor of Oklahoma vetoed bill that would criminalize abortion. And that’s nice. Unfortunately, she didn’t veto it because the law is blatantly unconstitutional. Nor did she veto it because the decision whether to have an abortion should be a matter of conscience for the woman involved. She vetoed it because the law failed to identify the definition of “medically necessary to save the life of the mother” which is the one exception in the law. It probably didn’t hurt that every expert agreed that the law would make it impossible for any OB/GYN to practice in Oklahoma, since any miscarriages or any tubal pregnancies that a patience experienced could be charged under the law. The governor explicitly said that she hopes a president will soon appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal at a federal level.

So it isn’t great news, just less awful than it originally appeared.

Speaking of good news: South Carolina Senate blocks Berkeley anti-transgender bathroom ban. This is the second time since this trans bathroom mania began that South Carolina legislators have killed one of these kinds of bills.

While we’re on the topic of improving news, some months back when the first trailer for the next Star Trek movie went up, it was pretty cringe worthy. It was blatantly obvious that whoever edited it was thinking, “Guardians of the Galaxy was a goofy comedy action movie that was a blockbuster, so how can we edit this to make it look like it is also a goofy comedy action movie?” The new trailer just dropped, and thankfully it looks much, much better:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Contagion from space – more of why I love sf/f

Cover of the first paperback edition of The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton.

Cover of the first paperback edition of The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton. (Click to embiggen)

The first time I remember hearing about The Andromeda Strain was while reading a movie theatre calendar. We were living in a small town in Utah which didn’t have a movie theatre of its own, but we were about an hour drive away from the small Colorado town where I had been born and my grandparents still lived. And often when we visited I would look at the monthly theatre calendar which was distributed free with the local weekly paper. Sometimes I would attempt to talk my parents into letting me come back on a particular weekend to go to the movie.

I think it was the fall of 1971 (I would have been eleven) when I saw the listing, and the name and very short description had me intrigued. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince my parents to let me have the movie trip.

About a year later The Andromeda Strain was broadcast on network TV, probably as a movie of the week (that was a thing back then), and for whatever reason, we didn’t watch the first part of the movie. Probably it conflicted with a show my dad liked, so we watched the other show, first, then switched channels and watched the last half of the movie. So I was a bit confused, but it was still pretty exciting. The last part of the film was very tense and entertaining, even without the beginning.

The following week in school, everyone was talking about the movie. It was one of the few times that I remember kids who usually didn’t know a thing about science fiction talking about a sci fi plot.

Not long afterward, I happened across a battered paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s novel upon which the movie was based. I read it in a single sitting. One of the things that amazed me when I finished was how closely the half of the movie I saw followed the latter portion of the book. My previous experience of comparing movies to the books they were based on was that the movie often bore virtually no resemblance to the book.

The story of the Andromeda Strain is that a space probe is sent into low earth orbit and brought back down. It lands in a small, isolated town, and by the time the retrieval team arrives to pick it up, it seems that every inhabitant of the town has been killed. The retrieval team dies will communicating with their government superiors, and a Wildfire alert is activated. Wildfire is a codename for protocol government scientists have put together to respond to a biological threat from space. A team of scientists are pulled from their regular jobs and rushed to a secret underground facility. Two of the scientists go into the town in hazmat suits, find the satellite, and also find two survivors, an old man and a crying infant. The bulk of the story deals with how the scientists figure out what the infection is, and why those two very different characters are immune.

Before they have quite figured everything out, the extraterrestrial organism (which is neither a virus nor a bacterium) mutates and starts eating the plastics and rubber seals throughout the lab. This sets off an alarm and starts an automatic countdown on a nuclear self-destruct device. One of the things the scientists have determined about the organism is that it is not only immune to radiation, but will actually thrive in the explosion, and probably destroy all life on the planet. Thus we get to the tense ending where the characters are trying to stop the self-destruct and find a way to neutralize the infection.

One of the things that disappointed me about the book was that one of the most interesting characters in the movie, Dr. Ruth Leavitt, was a much less interesting man, Dr. Paul Leavitt, in the novel. I’m not sure if the character in the movie was more interesting because the actress, Kate Reid, played a very believable character, or if the character was just less interesting in the original.

Kate Reid playing clinical microbiologist, Dr. Ruth Leavitt in the Andromeda Strain © Universal Pictures

Kate Reid playing clinical microbiologist, Dr. Ruth Leavitt in the Andromeda Strain © Universal Pictures

Some time later, when I got to watch the movie all the way through for the first time, I was even more impressed with Reid’s character and the way the filmmakers used her. It was far more common for the token female character in either thrillers or sci fi films to be played by a young, glamorous actress, who was there more as eye-candy than to actually participate in the story. Leavitt wasn’t like that. There are some, I’m sure, who will argue that the filmmakers went overboard, putting Reid in those large unflattering glasses, and generally looking dowdy. But the filmmakers didn’t dress up any of the male scientists any differently. Even the casual way she smoked her cigarettes, never doing any of those delicate movie star poses that were more common when actresses were shown smoking at the time, just fit with the character’s personality.

I re-read The Andromeda Strain at least once more after seeing the movie all the way through, and I still found Reid’s version of the Leavitt character more interesting. And this was decades before I’d ever heard of the Bechdel Test!

The Andromeda Strain was a bestseller, and set Michael Crichton on the path of future success that would lead to, among other things, Jurassic Park. The movie was only a moderate success, which is too bad, because it was really well done. The science included was, for the most part, plausible at time. In fact, nothing in the film required any sort of advancement of technology beyond what we had available. Exactly how the life form could convert energy to matter was the only bit of dubious handwaving to speak of. It wasn’t the only time that the movie version of a science fiction story was better than the book, but I think it might have been the first time that I noticed it.

Another commentary on ships

A blog post that appeared on my Tumblr dashboard. Click to embiggen.

A blog post that appeared on my Tumblr dashboard. Click to embiggen.

A lot of Tumblr is about reblogging and liking stuff other people have posted. Or more realistically, reblogging stuff someone you follow reblogged from someone the follow who reblogged it from someone else, ad nauseum, that someone else posted.

A certain amount of commentary happens, though the tools aren’t really designed to foster conversation. But that’s another topic for another day.

The post, also shown in the screenshot above, came to my dashboard by one of those multi-reblog chains, and it much more succinctly demonstrates the point I expounded on in Invisible? Refusing to see what’s already there… which I also alluded to a few days ago in Confessions of an incorrigible shipper.

The original post was put up last July, as seen here.

Whether you call it a double standard, unacknowledged straight privilege, heterosexism, or homophobia, it’s all the same.

Confessions of an incorrigible shipper

Poe and Finn kiss while Rey gives Finn a congratulatory low-five (Earlier this week the writer/director of Star Wars Episode VIII re-tweeted this cartoon drawn by Jeffrey Winger (jeffreywinger.co.vu).

Earlier this week the writer/director of Star Wars Episode VIII re-tweeted this cartoon drawn by Jeffrey Winger (jeffreywinger.co.vu). Click to embiggen.

The first time I saw the original Star Wars I didn’t consciously have a strong feeling about the apparent love triangle being set up between Luke, Leia, and Han. I was frankly a bit surprised when some of my friends started talking about it. I mean, yes, there was the cute scene when Han realized that Luke was developing a crush, and he asked, “Do you think a princess and a guy like me–?” But he was so obviously teasing Luke. Clearly he wasn’t actually interested in the princess, right? I mean, what other possible interpretation could you have to that indulgent, slightly condescending smile?

And Han, being a much more experienced man, also, to my mind, knew that there was never any chance that a guy like Luke could win the princess, either. That was the other meaning of that smile. And during the dozens of times I re-watched the movie over the next three years, I was still convinced that there wasn’t going to be a serious conflict between Luke and Han trying to win Leia’s heart.

I was definitely in the minority. Lots of people expected, if there was a sequel, that a love triangle would figure heavily in the next movie.

I would like to be able to argue that I had somehow perceived some hint of the revelation that was going to come along later that Leia was Luke’s twin sister. But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t until after I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, that I realized what had been going on in my subconscious. Empire remains my favorite movie of the series for a lot of reasons, but after the first showing I had very mixed feelings about one subplot.

I was still deeply closeted at that point, but I was quite aware that I had a crush on Harrison Ford (or at least all the characters he played), while I had also very strongly identified with Luke, but didn’t have the same kind of feelings for Mark Hamill. I realized that my subconscious had been rooting for a romance, all right, but one between Luke and Han. Which in 1980, when Empire was released, was absolutely impossible in a mainstream film. Heck, even the most radical art house films seldom portrayed mutual same sex romances. They might show a homo obsessed with another man, but it was unrequited and tragic and depressing.

But that was what my subconscious saw precisely because we never saw it on the screen. I’ve written before about why queer people read same sex attraction into all sorts of characters in movies, television, and books. Because if we didn’t imagine them, we never got them. The unrelenting message of culture and media is that queers don’t exist, queers don’t matter, queers don’t love, and if they dare to, they deserve whatever horrible things befall them.

That’s why it’s homophobic when straight people roll their eyes or demand to know why we “do that” to characters who aren’t explicitly identified as gay. It isn’t necessarily malicious or intentional, but being annoyed that we dare to imagine such relationships perpetuates our erasure and is condescending at best.

But to get back to Empire, the movie did such an excellent job of portraying the complex emotional relationship between Han and Leia, that by the time of Han’s famous, “I know” answer just before he was frozen in carbonite, I was cheering for them. Of course they were in love! They were perfect for each other! At least that’s what one part of my heart said. Meanwhile, another part was mourning the loss of the love between Han and Luke that I’d hoped for, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen in a mainstream movie.

But once I got over my disappointment, I was totally on the Han and Leia train, and was happy to see them decades later (“You still drive me crazy”) as a realistic older couple who have had their ups, downs, and a falling out but still caring for each other in The Force Awakens.

I don’t only ship same sex couples. The first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I was totally a Willow/Xander shipper. I so wanted Xander to pull his head out and realize that Willow loved him. At different times in the series, yeah, I was elsewhere. I’ve written Xander/Spike fic (and if I ever finish my WIP there’s also some steamy Graham/Riley action and hot Gunn/Buffy action in there). I adore well written Buffy/Spike fic. For a while I was a Xander/Scott shipper, but have often been completely onboard both the canon Xander/Anya and Willow/Tara relationships. I realize if you’re not familiar with the show that you won’t know that half of those are opposite sex couples. In another fictional universe, I remain an unapologetic Parker/Hardison/Spencer One-true-threesome shipper!

But yes, I saw the chemistry between Finn and Poe during my first viewing of The Force Awakens, and given how many millions of other fans saw it, it clearly isn’t an unreasonable inference. I get that other people see the Rey/Finn pairing, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that, but I would really, really like for a galaxy filled with aliens of all shapes and droids and so forth the acknowledge that queer people exist, too. (Also, hey! Why can’t we have a Finn/Poe/Rey triad? Polyamory is real, too!) That’s why I enjoyed reading Rian Johnson Gets It, where I first saw the cartoon I linked above.

As Chuck Wendig said in a post I’ve linked to before regarding people who were angry he put gay characters in an official Star Wars novel:

“…if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct. You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.

Also, I was really pleased with this: when a fan recently asked Mark Hamill on line if Luke was bisexual, Mark replied, “His sexuality is never addressed in the films. Luke is whatever the audience wants him to be, so you can decide for yourself.”

Getting nerdy as f— about things we love

"I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love."

“I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love.”

I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. I was 16 years old when the first movie was released, and I saw it with two slightly older friends one of whom was a hard core science fiction/fantasy fan who subscribed to magazines and fanzines no one had heard of and was always talking about the intricacies of how this make-up artist did that thing, et cetera. Our small town in southwest Washington state had only two theatres back then and seldom got anything new, so these friends were always driving down to Portland, Oregon to see movies none of us had heard of.

They convinced me to go see this movie that they thought might be good on opening night. My mind was blown away. We hadn’t expected it to be so awesome. The next day we convinced several of our friends to caravan down in several cars to see Star Wars in a big group. They were equally as mind-blown.

We took another group of friends down a couple weekends later. Over the course of the summer of ’77, I drove myself and various friends down another 13 times to watch Star Wars again. The movie finally opened at one of our small town theatres in August, I think, and some friends who had refused to take the long drive to see it finally went with me to watch it on a fairly tiny screen. By that point, I not only knew every single line of dialog, but I could engage in trivia battles with my friends.

I organized excursions to go see each of the two sequels on opening day. For Return of the Jedi, two of my best friends and I got up at 4am to drive down to the big theatre in Oregon where I’d first seen Star Wars and Empire and we sat in line all day. I was 18th in line that morning for the first showing to the film.

I’m always a little amazed when I realize how many friends I have, now, who were too young to have experienced the movies the way I did. To them, Obi Wan, Luke, Leia, and Han weren’t cool characters in this awesome movie, they were beings of legend on a par with Santa Claus or Moses. And thus many of those friends have gone through all the phases of believing in the original tale, learning that it is a story that someone somewhere made up, becoming a bit cynical about the process of making movies and selling toys, and so on. Which isn’t to say they they don’t love the films. A lot of them revere them, and defend them as a treasured part of their childhood.

I didn’t go through those phases with this particular story. I was old enough that I could see which parts of the movie were homages to the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, which parts of the movie harkened to Westerns, and so on. That didn’t make me love the story any less, by no means. Look how many times I drove to watch it!

I didn’t own my own copy of the movie on VHS tape until I was nearly 30 years old. It was one of the first movies I bought after finally getting my own VCR. (That’s another thing, I’m old enough to remember when VCRs were a new gadget that only really well-to-do people could afford to own.)

To this day when I watch the original movie, I find it a little jarring to see those words “Episode IV – A New Hope” appear at the top of that initial screen crawl. That wasn’t there for that entire first run of the movie. It was added when the movie was released on home video, and in the re-release to theatres just before The Empire Strikes Back came out. It doesn’t matter that for 37 years that movie has been referred to as “Episode IV: A New Hope,” my visceral reaction is, “No. That isn’t the real name. The real name of the movie is simply ‘Star Wars.'”

I’m not recounting all of this to disparage anyone else’s appreciation of the film, or to try to prove that I’m more of an authority than anyone else. I chose my opening sentence to this post with a purpose. It implies something that I now want to make explicit: I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans, but I’m not the biggest. I can’t be. I have seen people very literally insist that they will cease to be friends with people if those people spoil the new movie for them.

And that’s simply insane.

Seriously, you are the sort of person who will discard another human being because they slip up and mention something about a movie?

I love Star Wars. It changed my life. It changed my view of storytelling. It set a standard that I still measure other stories against. And I’m a storyteller myself, now, who believes that storytelling is not merely fundamental to the definition of human, but that it is a transformational force which can move the world. I believe all of that, but I’m also able to understand that a plot twist is not more important than a human being. A literary surprise should not be more valuable to you than the love or affection you feel for another person.

I’ve made ludicrous statements myself, such as that I can’t be friends with someone who thinks The Phantom Menace was a good script. I’ve said things about movies or books or shows that I love and people who don’t share my enthusiasm which were insensitive at best, and outright cruel/pure assholery at worst. And then felt like a complete heel when I realized how I sounded. So I recognize that people might be being just a little hyperbolic. I realize that maybe these same people would regret it if they really did ostracize someone for “spoiling” the movie.

I hope, at least. Because here’s the thing: if you really love Star Wars that much, you should love the fact that other people love it. And maybe they don’t love it exactly the way you do. And maybe they love it so much that when they talk about it they reveal some details that you think of as spoilers, where as they think they’re just telling you it was awesome. It’s fine to let people know that you would like to be spoiler-free. And clearly, if someone tells you the ending for the malicious and intentional purpose of upsetting you, they are being an asshole and maybe you would be better off without them.

I try, myself, not to mention plot twists or reveals and the like of anything I’m watching or reading. I constantly bite my tongue about which clone is my favorite in the series Orphan Black, for instance, because merely mentioning my love of the character could spoil an important plot-twist that happens near the beginning of the second season. Even though it has been out for years, now, there are still friends I’m trying to get to watch the show, and I don’t want to ruin the joy I felt when that reveal happened.

But it’s just a story. It isn’t actually a matter of life and death. And just as we hurt people when we make disparaging remarks about things they like that we don’t, we also cause pain when we piss all over someone else’s enthusiasm. We shouldn’t do that. Especially about things they love.

I’m trying to learn not to do it. Won’t you join me?

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