"I don't get the transphobia some cis gay folks feed into
when a huge chunk of homophobia is based on not living up to
Don't blame trans & gender nonconforming folks for why the LGBTQ community isn't respected. You should be blaming cisheteronormativity.
The rights many queer folks enjoy today were the result of unapologetic trans and gender nonconforming folks living boldly." -- Raquel Willis, 2016-08-17; link is to first of a string of five tweets, three of which I've quoted
[I don't hear the "if it weren't for trans people / flamboyant people ..." argument from friends, but I do see it now and then in essays and comments written by folks I don't know, and among my friends I occasionaly hear "I don't see why an LGB organization / movement should include T", which is related. Thing is, trans folks have been involved from the beginning.]
Most of these reviews are spoilery.
A great start! A three-hander, new writing all about the premier feminist puppeteers (only feminist puppeteers) in Thanet (yes, UKIP Thanet). This was sweet and funny and warm and loving, but with a sharp core of realism; at the end, when Fleur has to choose between living a peripatetic lifestyle from beach hut to beach hut with her very unwell and sometimes-abusive girlfriend, or moving in with a Nice Guy From The Council while she gets her life in order... it's very clear that neither choice is freeedom, because that's not on the cards for her as a young queer woman who had to drop out of her degree. There's lots in here about the choices we make when the deck is stacked against us, and how even though we know we can never win, it's worth stating our truths anyway. It's about finding that sweet spot between valuing and centring others in loving, supportive community, and valuing and centring ourselves - while never entirely becoming Aidan who says, "maybe once I'm more established in this job, more secure, I can raise some ethical concerns [about making poor queer women homeless in December]".
Callisto: A Queer Epic
Now this feels like the find of the fringe. Four queer stories spanning centuries - feeling completely separate through character and costume, yet completely connected through how the evolve sparking off each other, scene to scene taking place in different time periods or in several at once. Domestic and intimate, and utterly epic, all at once. I fell, particularly, for Tammy Frazer; a women in 1970s Nebraska whose husband had brought home a porn film for them to watch together. We meet her after this, on her way to California in search of her impossible dream - she's fallen in love with Daisy Lou. It's set up as a tragedy - the sweet Nebraska girl drawn into the seedy underworld and the desires of unsavoury men - but that's not what happens! She holds her own throughout, constantly connecting with the women she meets in her sex work career; and right when you think it's at its inevitable nadir - the explosively violent man has her at gunpoint - Tammy and Daisy kill their abuser and Thelma-and-Louise off into the sunset.
I also fell hard for the furthest-future of the four narratives. Before this I'd have said it's impossible to do good sci-fi on stage, impossible not to evoke at least a little of the b-movie... but as Cal the AI and Lorn (the last of the 'big brains') struggle to complete The Bliss in time - with their language playwright-evolved across hundreds of years to be strange and ambiguous and yet SO EVOCATIVE - I started to sense what was actually possible with stage sci-fi. I need more of this. Luckily I'm seeing Callisto again tomorrow.
Strong Female Character
Oh, I wanted to love this so much! A one-woman stand-up-show about action movies, with a strong feminist angle? Count me in! And when I got into the stuffy little attic room and saw that audience of ten, and heard the totally autobiographical tone of the show ("and when I was six my favourite action hero was..."), I realised how much this had in common with the Vaudevillainy concept that I'd cooked up with deathbyshinies. And as she took the audience from "don't we all love action movies? we're all in-group here!" to "but sometimes they don't teach us great things about women, do they? haha those action movie men, what cads" to "so here's how my sexual assault happened because of male entitlement directly learned from these films" to "but these films have also helped me to reclaim a powerful sense of self as I've come to terms with my identity as a survivor" I felt like I was seeing a masterclass in how to get any random action movie fan to come on a journey of feminist discovery.
So it was such such SUCH a shame that her show, with all its focus on the importance of education, choice, and bodily autonomy, managed to fall down so badly on actually embodying those ideals. Between the flippant references to her dad's job performing surgery on intersex infants (weirdly gender-essentialist and erasing of trans experience, even while she described her own childhood experience of "feeling like she must really be a boy", then briefly and insultingly underscored with "I'm not meaning to make light of this, it's a serious thing, so difficult for the parents") and the sudden unwarned-for shift into graphic accounts of her sexual assault, it felt like she hadn't actually learned the lessons she was trying to teach. Like her show was SO focussed on taking a middle-aged male action movie fan on a feminist journey, that she'd overlooked the possibility that her audience might actually include people who weren't middle-aged dyadic cis men who've never experienced sexual violence.
I left this so conflicted, thinking round and round how maybe it just wasn't possible for her to appropriately impact her target audience (the men whose entitlement she was trying to shatter), without retraumatising people who are more like her. It's shoved me RIGHT up in front of the question I was trying to avoid wrestling with towards the end days of Lashings - is it ACTUALLY possible to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" with the same piece of art? To REALLY achieve both goals without sacrificing on one of them? This theme and thought will come up again and again in the reviews that follow...
This won't have disturbed anyone comfortable, but by the gods did it comfort the disturbed. Raw, honest, monologue-driven group account of gender and power. A little bit "A-level drama derived piece" in form and staging, but interspersed with charming "alternative student comedy" sketches so that the whole felt somehow more than the sum of its parts. Also, as I now believe that all plays should, it ended with a Kate Bush dance party to which the entire audience was invited. This play was like getting a hug from the really earnest but well-meaning bits of Tumblr.
In glorious contrast to Pussyfooting - which flitted around all sorts of issues around gender and power without ever really settling on a 'core message' (because how can you, with gender) - Cuncrete had one thing to say and said it. Loudly. For an hour. With drag kings and punk rock and a concrete mixer.
Like, imagine if The Dykeness had Arts Council funding. So many of the beats of one of our sets were in this show, but it was tight and focused beyond our wildest dreams.
In Cuncrete, Archibald Tactful and the Great White Males (a banker, a Lord, and a working-class-boy-done-good-who-proves-a
(Yes, you read the subject line right - this is just the first two days of my week at the fringe. More reviews to follow...)
Sure I am very sorry for Bess, but yet, I daresay once the family is return’d to Town there will be a deal of distraction for her. But when she comes with the chocolate party for my levée I see that she is shadow-ey’d and I daresay has lain awake in the miseries of first love. She is a little sharp with Quintus and Flora.
All too soon 'tis the day for Harry’s departure, at which I think all are somewhat tearfull but desire to hide it.
And then 'tis the final flurry of packing up for the move to Town, and I take my departure, for I shall only be in the way. Also I wish to take a gentle pace on the journey, altho’ Docket has seem’d quite remarkable well lately. Mayhap Sophy is taking more matters from her hands and letting her rest.
O, 'tis ever quite delightfull to come back to my own dear pretty house, and find all in such good order, and Euphemia coming with tea and promises of a nice little supper, and my own bed, even do I lye in it alone.
'Tis also by no means entire disagreeable to enjoy my morning chocolate in solitude.
But sure I may not lye long in idleness, for there is a deal of correspondence lyes upon my pretty desk, and cards have been left, for Society begins return to Town.
I look through the cards and see that Lady D- and Miss S- are come to Town and therefore P- House must have been open’d up. Also there are cards from Lady N- - that I confide she did not come in person to leave – and her daughters. So I should go make calls upon them very soon. There is also Lady T-'s card: I daresay she desires to convoke concerning printing her work upon lace.
I have finisht breakfast and am going thro’ my letters when Hector shows in Sandy. A very short while later comes Celeste with coffee and shortbreads.
I find that I am in some apprehension concerning this meeting with Sandy, for indeed there is the whole matter of Mr D- K-'s death lyes between us and I am in some fear that he will consider that I have interfer’d with the course of justice.
He drinks two cups of coffee and then says, dearest C-, I am entire happy to see you under our wont’d conditions of free and unconstrain’d converse; in particular because I am very much inclin’d to suppose that there was more to the death of Mr D- K- than was given out –
- why, o, wisest of silly creatures, do you make your pathetick face?
(Sure I was not aware that I did so.) Why, says I after a little pause, I am in some concern that you will go be cross with me, and we shall quarrel, and that would most greatly distress me.
Dear C-, sure one cannot greatly regret the fellow’s demise, but indeed I am like to suppose that 'twas not quite entire a matter of natural causes. However, he goes on with that charming smile of his, I am come quite to the consideration that 'twas a deal better to let it be given out as natural causes, rather than raise a scandal that would do us no service even if 'twas his wife’s hand he dy’d at; but I am in the most exceeding curiosity as to how it was contriv’d. The surgeon quite pooh-pooh’d any likelihood that could have been poison, and I was in some supposition that perchance he faint’d from the excess of his rage and she put a pillow over his face to suffocate him whilst he was unconscious.
Why, says I, that is a most plausible hypothesis, but, since you do not wish to pursue the business but only to know the inwardness of the matter, I will reveal to you that she stabb’d him, entire by accident, picking up a hat-pin to defend herself against his brutality.
Sure, says I, you will not have any great knowledge of ladies’ accoutrements, but indeed was it not for the ornamental head a hat-pin is most exceeding similar to a stiletto.
O, says Sandy, as a light of revelation dawns upon his countenance, and indeed stilettos may leave very insignificant external sign, 'twas remarkt upon in the case of the late Frederique –
Especially, says I, when one considers that he was already much bitten and stung by insects &C, and had scratcht in some places to bleeding.
But, he says, you confide that 'twas an accident and not by deliberation?
She was quite entire in shock, says I, and was there forethought, would have thought to conceal the weapon if not dispose of it at once.
Sandy frowns. But, he says, surely was some such thing found about the place – he then looks at me with somewhat of the dour Calvinistickal glare and goes on - I will not ask what you did with it –
I have it, says I, kept safe. Indeed Mrs D- K- seems still in somewhat of a daze, and shows herself somewhat of a different woman now her spouse is dead, but I thought 'twas only prudent to keep some evidence.
He shakes his head and says, pray tell him why are women deem’d the weaker sex? He is not sure he could have done so.
I shrug. More coffee?
He says that indeed 'tis a sorry fault in the law that husbands may abuse their wives with little recourse for the latter: at best they may be able to obtain a separation but 'tis by no means an easy matter.
Indeed 'tis so, 'tis a hard thing: but, my dear, let us turn our minds to the less heavy matters we have on hand. I have wait’d this age to hand to you the manuscript of my new novel.
So we discourse of matters of publishing, and Marcello’s desire to undertake agrarian reform, and those we have met over the summer that we think we may draw into some sympathy with our coterie, and I remark that I must be about arranging a soirée.
Sure I feel that we are on entire our usual terms of amiability.
In due course Sandy rises to depart, and then pauses and says, sure it seems sadly dull and quiet at R- House until the F-s are in residence once more.
I laugh and say I daresay he will shortly come and say the place has become an entire bear-garden when they are.
He grins and says, should that not be a tiger-garden?
O, says I, be off before I throw the coffee-pot at you.
I return to my correspondence until such time as my back aches and my hand cramps and I wish that my dear Jezzie-girl was return’d from Northamptonshire. But Belinda has writ that they intend to make quite a caravan coming to Town, with Jezebel, and Boots, and a pretty little pony call’d Mouse for Quintus, and some other cattle that they bring for one or another in Town, and will convey Josh along with 'em, so I must wait upon that.
I therefore go walk in the Park a little with Timothy to escort me: he has fine new livery that I hope he will not go outgrow in a matter of months.
Indeed one can see that company is returning: I nod a little to one or another, and then I see Mrs O’C- with her plain son, and go ask how they enjoy’d Margate. O, says young Master O’C-, ‘twas entire prime, was it not, Ma? Sure I wish we liv’d at Margate.
Mrs O’C- touzles his hair and says that 'tis given out a bleak cold place out of season, he would probably not like it so much when the wind goes whip across the sand. He looks as tho’ he cannot quite imagine such a state.
By the way, I say to Mrs O’C-, I met an antient admirer of yours when I was at C- Castle – Mr Miles O’N-?
O, she cries, blushing a little, does he remember me, the dear fellow that he is? Sure he was about breaking all girls’ hearts in those days. How does he?
I say that he is given out to be about breeding and training excellent fine horses in his native parts –
Indeed? she exclaims, for he us’d to be a fine generous spendthrift improvident fellow –
Perchance, says I, he came into some legacy that allow’d him to set up so, but 'tis given out that he is not the most business-like of fellows: but I would know little of that. Was most eager to hear about you and concern’d as to how you did now he had heard that Mr O’C- was deceas’d.
The fine fellow! she says, and I can hear that her accent becomes a deal broader, and she smiles somewhat reminiscent. 'Twas suppos’d we might make a match of it, and there were certain matters of kisses, but no spoken promise – and then, she goes on, her face falling, I met that villainous wretch and was beguil’d by him.
I fancy, says I, that Mr O’N- remains some while on this side of the Irish Sea, for he has give me the direction of the club where he may be found, did you desire to write to him.
Mrs O’C- looks thoughtfull, and looks at her son, that has gone romp with a spaniel that its owner must have loos’d from the leash. I daresay she goes weigh up the pleasures of meeting an antient admirer that may still carry her in his heart, and her desire to ensure that her son is provid’d for.
For in Town she is in an excellent way of business with her special pleasures, even does she sometimes go yearn for her old life as a girl in Ireland.
I will think on it, she says, and then goes recount gossip from Margate.
2. I stopped at the big Mexican supermarket on the way home from the doctor and not only did they have a lot of stuff I wanted for salads on sale, I also got some super delicious guacamole and chips and had that for dinner.
3. I've finished all my "must translate before the end of the month" stuff and now just have to wait for typesetters to do their thing! (Including one case where the typesetter is me, but I've still got a week before the end of the month, so I could totally do it.)
4. Chloe says hi.
This week's Unshelved Book Club features books about a shark-obsessed six-year-old, a young boy mourning his sister, one-skein crochet projects, an ambitious student who sits next to a boy who is always creatively misbehaving (but who never gets caught), and a YA science fiction retelling of Moby Dick set on an alien world.
Amazon | Powell's
|Adulthood is a Myth: A "Sarah's Scribbles" Collection by Sarah Andersen|
Andrews McMeel, 2016. 9781449474195. 112 pages.
Amazon | Powell's
|The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser|
Candlewick, 2015. 9780763669010. 432 pages.
Ishmael signed on as crew of the fishing ship Pequod hoping to earn enough money to buy his family’s way off the dying Earth. When he awakens from deep stasis, he finds himself on a planet with blue skies and more water than he’s ever seen. His team, including Queequeg and two others, are assigned to a chase boat, one of many that assist in catching terrafin, a sea creature processed into food for laborers on Earth. But the Pequod’s real quest is to find the giant white terrafin that destroyed the Captain’s previous ship.
Why I picked it up: Todd Strasser is one of my favorite YA authors. His books span a wide variety of genres, and I’ve always found them captivating. When I realized he had taken on a sci-fi version of Moby Dick, I was totally hooked.
Why I finished it: Ishmael and his friends find themselves in one life-threatening circumstance after another, from storms and shipwrecks to pirates and man-eating sea creatures. When the novelty of reading a retelling of Melville’s classic wore off, it was still a cleverly written sci-fi adventure filled with sympathetic characters, fanciful island locales, and heart-stopping action on the high seas.
It’s perfect for: My son, Matt, who is a huge science fiction fan and loves classic literature. He will appreciate the comic relief Strasser injects into the most stressful situations -- even the pirates are funny.
|Darling Days A Memoir by iO Tillett Wright|
Ecco, 2016. 9780062368201.
Unfolding in animated, crystalline prose, an emotionally raw, devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman’s extraordinary coming of age—a tale of gender and identity, freedom and addiction, rebellion and survival in the 1980s and 1990s, when punk, poverty, heroin, and art collided in the urban bohemia of New York’s Lower East Side
Born into the beautiful bedlam of downtown New York in the eighties, iO Tillett Wright came of age at the intersection of punk, poverty, heroin, and art. This was a world of self-invented characters, glamorous superstars, and strung-out sufferers, ground zero of drag and performance art. Still, no personality was more vibrant and formidable than iO’s mother’s. Rhonna, a showgirl and young widow, was a mercurial, erratic glamazon. She was iO’s fiercest defender and only authority in a world with few boundaries and even fewer indicators of normal life. At the center of Darling Days is the remarkable relationship between a fiery kid and a domineering ma—a bond defined by freedom and control, excess and sacrifice; by heartbreaking deprivation, agonizing rupture, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Darling Days is also a provocative examination of culture and identity, of the instincts that shape us and the norms that deform us, and of the courage and resilience it takes to listen closely to your deepest self. When a group of boys refuse to let six-year-old, female-born iO play ball, iO instantly adopts a new persona, becoming a boy named Ricky—a choice iO’s parents support and celebrate. It is the start of a profound exploration of gender and identity through the tenderest years, and the beginning of a life invented and reinvented at every step. Alternating between the harrowing and the hilarious, Darling Days is the candid, tough, and stirring memoir of a young person in search of an authentic self as family and home life devolve into chaos.
Amazon | Powell's
|Everything Is Teeth by Evie Wyld, Joe Sumner|
Pantheon, 2016. 9781101870815. 128 pages.
A graphic novel memoir about shark-obsessed, six-year-old Evie Wyld. On a family farm in Australia, she finds a gruesome book about the shark attack on Rodney Fox. Back home in England, she makes up stories about sharks eating her schoolmates. When her brother gets beat up, she tells him shark stories. Water, including baths, scares her, and she imagines her sofa is a raft in shark-filled waters. After she watches Jaws, she sees them everywhere.
Why I picked it up: The cover is striking, with a little girl standing in the middle of an enormous shark’s mouth.
Why I finished it: When I was about eight, I remember being afraid to go into my aunt’s swimming pool after thinking a bit too much about sharks, and this brought it all back. (I think this was before I saw Jaws -- I was the victim of an overactive imagination, some National Geographic books on animals, and a dozen Jacques Cousteau specials.) And I love Sumner’s art -- it’s mostly stark black inks with a little stippling and a few thin lines here and there to give the images depth, and it’s an amazing display of his skill as an illustrator. All of the sharks are photoshopped images of real animals, which works because it lets us see how Evie views them -- they stand out from the rest of the world; they are its focal points.
Readalikes: If you know kids who are into sharks but too young for the anxiety-producing Shark Week, read them The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson, a colorful graphic novel about a young woman who falls in love with a shark.
|The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter|
William Morrow, 2016. 9780062430212.
Husbands and wives. Mothers and daughters. The past and the future.
The author of Pretty Girls returns with an electrifying, emotionally complex thriller that plunges its fascinating protagonist into the darkest depths of a mystery that just might destroy him.
With the discovery of a murder at an abandoned construction site, Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is brought in on a case that becomes much more dangerous when the dead man is identified as an ex-cop.
Studying the body, Sara Linton—the GBI’s newest medical examiner and Will’s lover—realizes that the extensive blood loss didn't belong to the corpse. Sure enough, bloody footprints leading away from the scene indicate there is another victim—a woman—who has vanished . . . and who will die soon if she isn’t found.
Will is already compromised, because the site belongs to the city’s most popular citizen: a wealthy, powerful, and politically connected athlete protected by the world’s most expensive lawyers—a man who’s already gotten away with rape, despite Will’s exhaustive efforts to put him away.
But the worst is yet to come. Evidence soon links Will’s troubled past to the case . . . and the consequences will tear through his life with the force of a tornado, wreaking havoc for Will and everyone around him, including his colleagues, family, friends—and even the suspects he pursues.
Relentlessly suspenseful and furiously paced, peopled with conflicted, fallible characters who leap from the page, The Kept Woman is a seamless blend of twisty police procedural and ingenious psychological thriller -- a searing, unforgettable novel of love, loss, and redemption.
Amazon | Powell's
|The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle|
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016. 9781442395008.
Quinn and Annabeth were going to be the next great Hollywood sibling team. Watch out Coen brothers and Wachowskis, Q&A Productions is on the rise! Or it would have been, if Annabeth hadn't died in a fiery car crash. For six months Quinn has been hiding out in his room, living on pizza and misery. He hasn't taken a call (he doesn't even know where his phone is) or gone out. He even skipped his sister's memorial.
His best friend can't take it any longer, and finally drags him out of the house and back into life.
Why I picked it up: Two of my top favorite audiobooks of the last few years were Tim Federle's Better Nate That Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate! Not only did he do an amazing job of writing a tween boy who hadn't quite admitted to himself that he was gay, he narrated Nate with all the wonder and vulnerability a thirteen-year-old Broadway wannabe needs. I got to meet Tim at the Odyssey Award ceremony and found him to be as genuine and likable as his books. (And as chair, I got to hand him his honor award! fan girl SQUEAL)
Why I finished it: At first I was a little worried I wouldn't hear Quinn as his own character, since it was clear Tim had put so much of himself into Nate. I thought this might be more of the same. But soon I found myself loving this sad, guilt-ridden, lonely gay teenage boy for himself. It was painful to see him suffering as he finally starts to cope with his sister being gone, and hard to see him stumble through the self-obsession which made me want to cheer him on to better times.
Readalikes: What is so hard to capture about The Great American Whatever is that, despite the serious topics it tackles, it is a funny book. Quinn is a constant source of snarky one-liners, random movie trivia, and odd screenplay ideas. This makes it a great match for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews which is about teens obsessed with movie making who are dealing hilariously with mortality.
Amazon | Powell's
|Crochet One-Skein Wonders: 101 Projects From Crocheters Around the World by Judith Durant, Edie Eckman|
Storey Publishing, 2013. 9781612120423. 288 pages.
Instructions for how to make scarves, hats, pillow covers, stuffed toys, bracelets, and more using only one skein of yarn each, complete with photos and diagrams.
Why I picked it up: The projects all looked like things I would enjoy having around the house -- no ugly clothes or useless objects.
Why I finished it: When I made the market tote bag, it took a few tries to get the beginning right. The finished project was beautifully engineered and had gorgeous stitch patterns. It was worth paying extra attention to the process.
It’s perfect for: Anne, an experienced crocheter who has tons of single skeins of yarn left over from making things. She’ll love the challenge of the complex patterns, and the fact that the projects are helpfully arranged by the weight of the yarn needed.
Amazon | Powell's
Amazon | Powell's
|My Neighbor Seki Volume 1 by Takuma Morishige, Yoshito Hinton|
Vertical, 2015. 9781939130969. 176 pages.My Neighbor Seki Volume 2 by Takuma Morishige, Yoshito Hinton
Vertical, 2015. 9781939130976. 176 pages.
Poor Yokoi. She just wants to pay attention to the teacher and take copious notes during class. How can she when she sits next to Seki? He’s always busy with remarkable creative pursuits. After he sets up his erasers like dominoes (as they finish falling, a firework ignites), she has to scold him. When he creates a tower with all the black chess pieces and uses it to literally crush the white ones, she feels duty bound to flick a fallen pawn back onto his desk to topple the tower. Seki is the trouble maker, so why is Yokoi the only one getting reprimanded by their teachers?
Why I picked it up: My family enjoyed the anime version on Crunchyroll, but my son Noah assured me the original manga was even better.
Why I finished it: Noah was right. Even though Seki never speaks, his wild imagination and range of emotions are clear. Like Yokoi, I find Seki’s ever more elaborate activities irresistible, and can’t wait to find out what new crazy thing he’ll do next. A boy who can create and operate a miniature postal system (30mm by 40mm envelopes only, please) complete with an original postmark, tiny delivery bags and mailboxes, all under the nose of an oblivious teacher, is my kind of kid.
It’s perfect for: My old schoolmate Tammy. Like Yokoi, she had to know what other kids (especially boys) were up to. I think she’d sympathize with Yokoi when she tells her friend Goto, “And it just keeps escalating, so I forget to stop him… And I end up charmed by it even though I should know better…”
I cannot decide whether The Big Combo (1955) suffers from its tendency to treat women as plot counters more than it benefits from its deep, shadowy, atmospheric cinematography or the performances of Cornel Wilde and Richard Conte as a hero it's difficult to root for and a heavy with a strange sympathetic streak, but I do appreciate how all of these elements come together in the finale: the merciless glare of headlights hunting a man who has dominated his lover past her limits, controlling even the music she listens to, the colors he prefers her to wear—half-blinded, staggering in the fog, whichever way he turns now she has the lights on him, as relentlessly trapped and exposed as he made her feel all those years. It's not complete repayment for how much of the rest of the film she spends crying, questioned and prodded by men who keep saying they love her, but I'll take it. The level of sexuality slipped under the radar is noteworthy, as is the director's evocatively synesthetic approach to violence. Dear scriptwriters: if you take a pair of inseparable hoods named Fante and Mingo who sleep in the same bedroom and make plans to run away together and then give them lines like "I can't swallow any more salami" and "The police'll be looking for us in every closet in town," I hope you were tweaking the Production Code deliberately, because a twenty-first-century audience can't take it with a straight face. The big-band brass of the title theme is great.
Trying to work out why it is that even now I harbor a soft spot for Richard Conte's smoothly ruthless Mr. Brown while I cut no such slack for Cornel Wilde's dogged Lieutenant Leonard Diamond of the 93rd Precinct, I realized that my feelings rest heavily on the sexual implications of a brief, at least historically startling scene between Conte and Jean Wallace. A little background before the smut.
The plot of The Big Combo is the kind of murky audience misdirection in which noir specializes: a study of a sexual obsession disguised as a moral crusade. The city is probably Los Angeles, but it's ninety-five percent studio interiors and backlot streets and day shots are few and far between; even efficiency apartments and hospital rooms are as spookily shadowed as stakeouts at midnight. We meet one major character fleeing through the tile-and-concrete warren of a boxing arena after dark, another pulling self-imposed graveyard shift at the precinct, another delivering a genial, chilling lecture on hate in a low-lit locker room. The finale will pull all of them away into the fog-swirling night. In this especially dark city, Diamond is our sole steady representative of the law. His name should signal his clarity and integrity, but in his very first scene he's shown to be obsessed and unreliable, his mixed motives obvious to everyone but himself—defending the $18,000-plus of departmental budget he blew on a fruitless six-month investigation of the seemingly squeaky-clean Mr. Brown, he mounts an eloquent denunciation of the corrupting influence of Brown's "combo," but the precinct captain cuts through his righteousness by reminding him that for the same six months he stalked "Brown's girl," the beautiful, damaged ex-socialite Susan Lowell (Wallace), and on his own dime no less. "She went to Vegas, you went to Vegas. She flew to Cuba, you flew to Cuba. You can't bear to think of her in the arms of this hood . . . She's been with Brown three and a half years. That's a lot of days—and nights." Diamond sticks to the story that she's just his best lead on the slippery, seamless syndicate boss, but there are all sorts of uncomfortable overtones when he races off to question her while she recovers in the city hospital following an overdose of pills. She lies against the pillows like l'Inconnue de la Seine, he takes her in his arms as if to give her the kiss of life, and then he badgers her about the woman's name—"Alicia"—she whispered deliriously on her way into the ER. She struggles against him feebly, begs him to leave her alone. He holds her down on the bed and threatens to arrest her for attempted suicide if she doesn't talk to him. If there was ever any genuine social concern in Diamond's hunt for Brown, it's long since foundered on his chaotic feelings for Susan. He wants to save her, he wants to possess her, he has really not thought through how sending up her lover for life is supposed to win a woman's heart. (He's obviously never seen The Third Man (1949).) In the meantime, living out of his office, shaving and eating at his desk, recording case notes to himself like a homicide detective—which he's not—he looks about one wall of string-linked magazine clippings away from a conspiracy nut. A movie which wanted its audience to view Diamond more heroically might set him up like a loose cannon in order to give him the satisfaction of being proven right. Here, we know from the start that Brown's a crook—Diamond's a cop, so what? It's not why he's doing what he's doing, just how.1
Susan's relationship with Brown at first looks like much the same thing. No one has a real history in this picture, although Brown has the most with his seven-year rise from prison guard to arch-criminal, but we learn early on that she threw away a promising career as a classical pianist to become the kept woman of a high-class hood; she still displays a careful, educated voice, a "classy" manner even in the extremity of despair. Brown likes to accentuate these aspects of her. He doesn't like her to drink, because it recalls his wife the "lush" who drunkenly humiliated him; he likes her to dress in white, as if curating an image of purity; he dislikes her listening to classical music, the kind she used to play, perhaps because it is inaccessible to him or because it reminds her that she once had another world, one she might yet return to, without Mr. Brown. She is running away from him in her introductory scene—not permanently, but she didn't want to attend the boxing match in the first place; Mr. Brown insisted. Mr. Brown insists a lot. It is warping Susan out of shape, crushing her like an abyssal sea. So, obviously, why does she stay? Is it the violence? The nearness to power? She came from a society family; the wealth itself can't attract or impress her. Diamond can't figure it out.
( I live in a maze, Mr. Diamond. )
Brown is not a good guy. He's possessive, destructive, sadistic, a casual taker and ruiner of lives, and he unsettles even in amicable conversation because he goes about so much of his blood-money business without any overt expression of anger. He smiles and smiles and is a villain. His micromanagement of his lover's life without any regard for her preferences or boundaries is a main factor in her suicide attempt and he never gets it, not even at the end when she has him pinned in the lights and the expression on his face as he squints out through the blinding fog is the same strange, pained bewilderment, never understanding that it was not in his power to give her what she wanted most. But the film suggests that he was trying. It gives him the benefit of the doubt where his lover's pleasure is concerned. I can't say the same about Diamond. Even in the scene where he stumblingly admits his feelings for Susan, one of the few moments in the movie in which he looks sympathetic, vulnerable, less than fanatically sure of himself, he can't stop himself from trying to hurt her into helping him, jerking the mink coat from her lap and gruesomely describing its pelts as the "skins of human beings . . . people who've been beaten, sold, robbed, doped, murdered by Mr. Brown," as if she never knew where the money came from. He can't stop trying to use her. Wilde and Wallace were married for thirty years in real life; they made seven movies together, eight if you count the one he directed without appearing in; it interests me that in neither of the two I've seen so far are they cast as ideal lovers, or possibly even people who should be involved with one another at all. Perhaps I'm overgeneralizing, but I have trouble reading Diamond as anything other than a very conventional, heteronormative lover—if he knows what really turns his beau ideal on, it's probably something he thinks a woman who has the right kind of man shouldn't need. The final configuration of the three principals is ambiguous, but if Susan really has thrown in her lot with the gender conformity of her decade, it's hard for me not to feel that she's lost something. Maybe she'll find it again after the film ends with someone who isn't Lieutenant Diamond. This TMI brought to you by my attentive backers at Patreon.
1. All the while he's carrying on his white-knight, Madonna-whore complex about Susan, Diamond maintains a mostly off-again relationship with Helene Stanton's Rita, a dark-haired stripper who greets him after his six-month absence with a well-deserved "You've certainly got a nerve!" She really cares about him despite her scorn for his job and her frustration with his distance; she warns him when the word on the street turns nasty in his direction. He goes to her for sex and emotional support and not much more. She's not his fallen angel who needs a hand back on her pedestal again. Only after she's taken eleven bullets in his place does Diamond recognize what a heel he was to her, crumbling into tears as he berates himself, "I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up." I am glad that he is shown to be capable of remorse, because the audience noticed the glove thing long before he did. But I admit it affects my assessment of his feelings for Susan.
2. Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy (Extase, 1933) has a twenty-year lead on The Big Combo, but it's Czech. And unless things have changed much since I saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated in 2006, Hollywood is still way behind any reasonable times in depicting female pleasure, especially if it does not involve dick.
3. Including Massachusetts! Thanks, Puritans.
4. Because my life is my life, I know much more about classical Roman attitudes toward cunnilingus, i.e., it's even more degrading and unmanly for a man to perform than fellatio. If you get face-fucked by a dude, at least it is a dude you're submitting to; if you're getting face-fucked by a woman, game over, man, game over. Also, everyone knows it's just gross. You can really insult a Roman man by calling him a cunnilingus, even more than if you called him a fellator (cocksucker) or a cinaedus (effeminate, penetrable, gender-non-conforming man). Martial wrote way too many epigrams on the subject. There's also some relevant graffiti. I am comforted by the existence of Pompeiian graffiti indicating that male prostitutes offered cunnilingus to their female clients, and not just in a your-mom-for-five-bucks kind of way. But the literary record at least is overwhelmingly negative and the culture I live in inherited not a little of it, alas. In any case, these are all masculinity-related hangups about which Mr. Brown does not appear to give a fuck.
A) I came home not 5 minutes before this. (After a super-shitty week at work culminating in a particularly super-shitty day today.)
B) This is actually the second time he's done it, the last time, he did it while my wife and I were in the bed. He pissed ON US. We weren't really sure what to make of that; he'd been sick and we'd been playing with his insulin to get him back on track with his blood sugars.
I can't tell if he's still sick and letting us know, or if he's pissed at me specifically. I've been stressed from work, so not particularly lovey or anything, but not like, awful? I'm still petting the cats and they sleep with us, and hang out with me on the couch.
You know, I just didn't need this today.
1) gorgeous weather and wearing a summery dress I really love :-)
2) Delicious breakfast in a jar! Muesli, greek yoghury, dried cranberries and fresh blue berries. Super yum! :D
3) Lazy afternoon planned and Lhune is coming over for dinner :-) Really looking forward to that! :-)
I have had right ankle problems since April and have been working with a podiatrist to find a pair of shoes that will cushion my feet more. I already have custom orthotics and will need a new pair made. But I have been walking twice daily even with the right ankle pain. During my recent trip, I cut my walking in half and the pain went away. Unfortunately that level of walking = sedentary and I cannot maintain my current weight (nor my overall cardio health). A stationary or recumbent bike would be a good choice except I'd have to use low resistance and it hurts my back. To match the daily walks I would have to spend three hours a day on the bike. So I resumed my twice daily walks and now...
...now my left ankle is swollen and hurting and I cannot wriggle a few of my toes. Another visit to the foot surgeon surgeon next month. Last time he only took xrays and told me to start physical therapy for the right foot. I am still looking for a physical therapist who can handle EDS patients. So I am back to the walking very little and am finding that the increased sitting is making my back flare up. Jack in the boxes and whack a moles seems to be my thing nowawdays.
In short, I will continue to be preoccupied by health and may be distracted, extra cranky and may ignore you.
On another note: The only Star Trek series I did not watch from start to finish was Voyager so I have started that on Netflix.
iOS 9.3.5 has just been released, and it’s a very important security update. Important enough that it made the news–because it’s fixing newly discovered security flaws that had the potential to give a remote attacker pretty much complete control of your phone. So jump on this ASAP and get your devices updated, mmkay?
The BBC has covered the story here:
(If you own an older device that’s running an older version of iOS, better check and see if a similar update has been released for your version, too. If your device is capable of updating to iOS 9, you might want to put serious consideration into doing so. If it’s not capable of updating to iOS 9 and Apple hasn’t yet released a security patch to your version, go get on them about that.)
Mirrored from angelahighland.com.