Esquire Theme by Matthew Buchanan
Social icons by Tim van Damme

28

Feb

Album Art
91 plays

THIS SONG EXISTS: “My Bathroom Is A Private Kind Of Place” (1969)

Though the singer isn’t credited, this ditty’s composer, Sid Siegel, was hired by the American-Standard Company to compose a bathroom-focused musical for the lavatory giant’s upcoming trade show. 

The musical in question (titled The Bathrooms Are Coming!) was summarized on the back of its program as follows (thank you to Wasted Space for the description):

The story [involves] the introduction of the mythical Greek goddess Femma, the epitome of all women’s attitudes, reflections and desires and the leader of all women’s movements. In the play, Femma is called upon to start a bathroom revolution— “Join the fight for bathroom safety, Femma… the fight for beauty and luxury. We need freedom from bathroom oppression. Join the fight for better bathrooms.” 

I guess this song serves as Femma’s last-act cri de coeur, a howl of triumph over the, uh, forces of bathroom evil? 

You’ll need more than a trip to the bathroom to get this one out of your head.

27

Feb

DEATH BECOMES HER (1992)

I’m fairly certain this movie made me gay. Though I was at least 90% there by the summer of ‘92, DEATH BECOMES HER definitely pushed me over the edge. 

Earlier that year, it was revealed to the unrepentantly evil 8th grade class of Queen Elizabeth Park Middle-and-High School in Oakville, Ontario, Canada that I had acquired a bit of a crush on Michelle Garber*, a nymphet with kinky auburn hair and a face that was tailor-made for a Noxzema commercial. I used to stare at her in Miss MacRae’s English class and wonder what made her smell so good, what her bedroom was like, what it would be like to kiss her. 

Once said crush was revealed to the general public, utter horror began: snickering all around, “sympathetic” smiles and shoulder pats from the girls who smoked between periods and obsessed over Suzanne Vega, and worst of all, complete stonewalling from Michelle Garber, who, up until the big reveal, was a friendly and all-around sweet person. Now it was all downcast eyes when passing in the hall, reddening from her friends’ teasing at the sight of me in the library, and eventually a flat-out announcement from one of her emissaries that she would never ever even consider going to see a movie at Famous Players with me, or share a quesadilla at McGinnis Landing afterwards to discuss said movie. My abject humiliation was complete.

The school year ended and I was grateful. It was a relief not to have to get razzed about my unthinkable crush, having longed for a woman above my caste, and it was especially a gift not to have to see Michelle swanning around with Jeremy, that stoner burnout from the bus stop who used to recount Al Bundy’s jokes from last night’s Married With Children for his friends. 

I sank into a depression despite the fresh air and sunlight, it being an unseasonably warm period, especially for suburban Toronto. I thought about Michelle a lot. Then, one weekend, I went to the Oakville Mews to check out DEATH BECOMES HER.

I forgot all about Michelle Garber around the time Meryl Streep barks “NOOOOOOW a warning?!,” while chunks of the film’s scenery sputter out of her mouth. 

DEATH BECOMES HER is a movie I am deeply grateful for. I would like to thank Universal Studios, and, more specifically, whoever at the studio was asleep at the switch between 1990-1991 and allowed this movie to exist. I’m not sure what exactly the pitch was (“It’s Postcards From The Edge meets George Romero for suicidal gay boys!” maybe) but I imagine it was a virtuoso affair; this is a movie that asks you to care about two venal, revenge-obsessed Hollywood bitches who, upon discovering the fountain of youth and being damned to eternal life, end up using their abilities for little more than self-gratification… and violence. Lots of violence.

This is what passed for a summer movie in 1992. God, those were the days.

This movie entered my heart when Meryl Streep sings a disastrous number from a terrible musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth. The movie made me ecstatic when Meryl falls down the stairs, breaks her neck, and then ambles around before realizing that she’s one of the living dead and needs her mortician husband to paint her with skin-toned acrylic to mask the hideous grey of her rotting flesh. The movie made me berserk with glee when Goldie Hawn gets a hole blown through her stomach and then bleeds out in a Beverly Hills fountain, only to return to life to crush Meryl’s skull with a shovel. The movie changed my life when Meryl & Goldie, 50 years in the future and now fully mummified and shellacked within an inch of their undead lives, decapitate each other before a Catholic church. I was saved.

The “It Gets Better” movement began with this movie. If I ever meet director Robert Zemeckis or writers David Koepp & Martin Donovan, I won’t shake their hands. I will genuflect

Also, the movie featured a rather charming and affable mid-period Bruce Willis. And he was even better-looking in that Die Hard movie I didn’t give a shit about back in ‘89. I couldn’t even remember what’s-her-name after watching that one. I wonder where she is now. 

*Not her real name— because this movie actually erased her name from my memory.


22

Feb

PLAY IT AS IT LAYS (1972)

Because the fact that Universal made a big-budget adaptation of Joan Didion’s horrifically bleak Hollywood-as-Hell novel is a miracle in itself. 

Because Frank Perry, who would later live in infamy for directing Mommie Dearest, works here with such stark assurance, and few false notes.

Because Tuesday Weld delivers a masterful performance as anti-heroine Maria Wyeth, an actress tumbling down a rabbit hole with no bottom. Never grating, never campy, always fascinating. 

Because Anthony Perkins puts away the twitches and mannerisms long enough to deliver his best work since Psycho: a brittle turn as Maria’s best friend, a gay producer who’s been in said rabbit hole for so long he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Because it was never released on video, and deserves to be seen for the sheer audacity of its tone and editing— there are few films out there so doggedly committed to being faithful to their source material— and in being so chilly, to their own detriment.

Because maybe these images will whet your interest to see the movie— it runs once in a blue moon on the Sundance Channel, and at revival theaters. Your local geek’s-paradise video store might even have a bootleg copy. And you could always order a DVD-R of it from here.

See it when you’re feeling existential. 

30

Jan

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL (1997)

It’s been a cavalcade of firsts around here, but here’s a whole new first for you: THIS MOVIE EXISTS’ very first guest blogger! Yaaaaaaay!

*insert Muppet hands here*

And doing said honors is the illustrious Jeffrey McCrann, of NOW KINDLY UNDO THESE STRAPS fame, and he certainly brought us a treat in his Paula Deen tote bag! I’ve known Mr. McCrann since college, and there’s nobody I know who offers his unique perspective on all things cinema— and that’s why I’m excited he’s decided to blow some of the dust off a little movie that you all may have forgotten existed. Take it away, Jeffrey!

I want to talk about a movie I happened upon late last night.  In this movie, Mister John Cusack is playing John Cusack on the telephone pretending to be a journalist for Town & Country magazine.  This journalist (aptly named John for fear that Mr. Cusack would, no doubt, one day be confused— causing the production to be halted) is sent to Savannah, Georgia to chronicle a wealthy homosexual’s Christmas party.  Fluff. 

Well apparently, the wealthy homosexual in question is Mister Kevin Spacey himself, sporting a moustache, so as to not be confused for Kevin Spacey by the locals!  Before you can say diamond-encrusted Faberge, Mr. Spacey has killed a hustler played by Jude Law (who is not actually a homosexual but who is an actor, which is like a homosexual, only with more narcissistic tendencies). 

 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this movie exists and it’s not One Crazy Summer.  This movie is MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.

If you have not seen this film, prepare to be agog. What was apparently a true story of deception and betrayal is presented as Grand Guignol camp.  This movie is the stuff of Robert Aldrich and Paul Morrissey.  For starters, Kevin Spacey is besties with Miss Dorothy Loudon (RIP), sporting a gown she stole from the set of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, complete with feathers that match her eye makeup!  There are repeated close-ups on dogs.  The camera consciously lingers upon a cast festooned with distracting locals.  I am assuming these folks were kin to the real-life events because they are presented so grotesquely that I often forgot I wasn’t watching Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. 

My apologies to Paula Deen and Ruby, but apparently the people of Savannah are a little bit slow because everyone in town insists that Mr. Spacey is not, in fact, a lecherous Oscar-winning homosexual.  What a riot!  People smoke indoors.  Women talk casually of their husbands’ suicides.  They ask to “make pictures” with dogs.  People travel by horse and carriage.  Everyone is holding.  Many of them still seem to have slaves.  Mr. Spacey even takes Mr. Cusack to the “colored cemetery” where they meet a real live voodoo priestess (yes, the toothless one from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog).  It’s a lot to take in!  

Now, John Cusack grew up in show business so he’s no fool.  When the Spacey Christmas party is interrupted by Jude Law (fresh from his trailer— where legend has it he had watched Brando’s scenes from Streetcar a record 45 times in a row whilst applying his hair gunk), brandishing a broken bottle with rehearsed menace in his eyes.  John can tell something’s going down.  Did I mention that Mr. Spacey is living with his mother?  MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL is nothing if not subtle.

Just when we, the audience, start to engage in this dishy, exclusive look into the world Kevin Spacey between films, the entire proceedings are halted in their tracks.  Enter The Lady Chablis.

John Cusack, still pretending to be a writer (he’s even wearing William Holden’s costume from Sunset Blvd), travels to the poor side of town to meet up with a drag queen/transvestite/life coach/vaudeville star by the name of Lady Chablis.  While clearly in need of a sandwich, she still has most of her original teeth.  John becomes convinced that she is the key to unlocking these Savannah mysteries.  Trannychaser, indeed.  The movie ceases to be a mystery and now is a rather pedestrian remake of Pretty Woman.  John Cusack is in love with the tranny hooker with a heart of gold, dressing her up in Nolan Miller gowns and taking her to cotillions, while Kevin Spacey tries to get between them.

Mr. Spacey winds up in prison where he’s sniffed by burly men with goatees.  Yes, he’s actually sniffed, like a dog – that’s how homosexuals express interest in one another, in case you didn’t know. And don’t worry about Mr. Cusack – to assure us of his predominant heterosexuality, there’s a plain-looking blonde florist/cabaret singer in a sundress who comes and goes— implying that even though Mr. Cusack is tolerant of these artistic types, he’s a red-blooded American man, through and through.  Whew!

Dorothy Loudon comes back, this time wearing pink marabou, to imply that everyone in town is mad because Jude Law was the best whore in town and they weren’t done fucking him.  How rude of Kevin to kill him off!  Now they want him to pay.  It’s one thing to be a homosexual millionare behind closed doors, but it is another thing entirely to make a scene of it!  Ugh – aren’t we over this yet?  This movie presumes that homosexuals are evil liars capable of murdering the innocent without remorse.  This isn’t a Douglas Sirk epic about homosexual oppression in the ‘50s.  It’s a late-90s Kevin Spacey picture.  Are we really not over this yet?  It’s more exhausting than an all day marathon of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s more exhausting than Kevin Spacey.

 

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL is one of those movies with a killer first act that manages to lose all steam halfway through.  It’s disheartening that a movie audacious enough to have a character tied to A FLOCK OF BEES would wind up so pedestrian as to give over to the trappings of contrived courtroom nonsense - where a witness’s testimony is discredited on a count of his homosexuality. 

PASS.  From here on out, the movie’s dead on arrival – the only saving grace being The Lady Chablis, taking the stand like a modern day Roxie Hart.  Like Savannah itself, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL is fun to visit, but you don’t want to stay too long.

16

Jan

STRAIT-JACKET (1964)

As John Waters might say, “Whatever happened to showmanship?”

When they made William Castle, they broke the mold— and his reputation in the 1950s and -60s as “the bargain Hitchcock” was earned not for lack of talent or intelligence, but rather for the attention-grabbing antics surrounding the releases of his cheapie thrill-pics: alternately titled “Percepto,” or “Emergo,” each gimmick involved some sort of audience participation where their butts were shocked by electric buzzers in the theatre seats (The Tingler) or had cloth-and-plastic ghosts fly over the audience at a climactic moment (13 Ghosts). He frequently had “nurses” at his screenings who made the patrons sign a “Waiver of Liability,” stating that the theatre, nor the filmmakers, were responsible in the event that the patron died of fright.

This was a man who would do anything to get his box office up. Does anyone do anything even remotely this inventive vis-a-vis movie marketing anymore?

Having spent the 50s making nuclear paranoia pictures, the sudden, runaway success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) gave Castle a new angle: the psychosexual murder pic! Castle wasted no time in following up Hitchcock with his own entry in the DSM-IV slasher series: Homicidal (1961), which was about an unstable blonde girl who carries a meat cleaver around in her handbag. Nothing good comes of it.

But with the advent of “hag horror” in 1963— due to the success of Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?— Castle saw that he had another angle to cover— and mash-up to his current oeuvre. Without further ado, we here at THIS MOVIE EXISTS present to you this, perhaps Castle’s finest hour: STRAIT-JACKET, a story of Joan Crawford axe murdering people.

I truthfully don’t know where to start with STRAIT-JACKET. It’s almost enough for me to wonder what exactly Castle said to Columbia Pictures execs the day he came up with it:

Hello, Harry? Billy Castle here. Listen, I got a big one for ya, a big one— from that Bob Bloch guy who wrote the Psycho novel. Yeah, he wrote another one. No, it’s not as good, but that’s not the point. Listen: Joan Crawford plays a boozy dame who comes home to a cheating husband— and hacks him and the girlfriend up with an axe while their 7-year-old watches. No, it’s not a comedy.

Anyway, you jump forward 20 years to when Joan’s getting out of the loony bin, and now she stares a lot and dresses like a Russian pre-school teacher. Everywhere she looks she sees knives and axes and she cries and screams and pretty soon she’s waking up with severed heads in her bed, and she doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not.

Also, even though she’s 60-something, she’s gonna play herself at 30 in the prologue.


STRAIT-JACKET is one of those rare campy movies that actually lives up to its reputation. You know how sometimes you’ll pop in a camp “classic” only to find that it has a lot of dead patches between the good moments? Well, not this one. From beginning to end, this one’s a real doozie— and it’s a craptastic gift that keeps on giving.

Joan Crawford doesn’t so much give a performance in this as she does perform a “greatest hits”-type solo show of highlights from her entire career. She screams, she cries, she mothers, she rages, she flirts, she drinks— she does everything in this picture. I guess this was her Black Swan or something.

There something both grotesque and respectable, though, about the abandon she has in playing Lucy here— while it’s laugh-out-loud funny to see her step off a train with man-hungry eyes, flicking a cigarette as she cruises an empty platform, there’s no denying that she’s not phoning anything in. Like her or hate her, Joan was a consummate professional, and the tears, the hysterics— they’re all solid despite the silliness of the project.

Though her subsequent pictures (Berserk! and Trog, to name a couple) were bottom-feeder crap, it’s nice to watch Castle and Crawford working together— because in his lead actress, the director seemed to have finally found his ultimate over-the-top special effect.

21

Dec

She Will Spit and Bite if she's Cornered.

There’s nothing like an invitation to a fun party— and the shindig going on at NOW KINDLY UNDO THESE STRAPS is the one to beat. Queer-centric, irreverent, and obsessed with all things horror, I’m honored to be their first guest blogger, and I’ve brought my favorite casserole: a mini-dissertation on Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL (2001).

Have a taste and tell me what you think, and have a great holiday!

18

Dec

BLACK SWAN (2010)

When it comes to gay shit, straight guys just do it better.

Hear me out: while you, dear reader, might not be of the lavender persuasion, you *may* at some point or other come across some gay indie on a pay-TV channel, and said gay indie may or may not have featured:

a) a best-friends group of lovelorn gay guys renting a time-share on Fire Island/playing on a softball team/experiencing the “rush” of nightclub fast living;

b) a man hiring, then experiencing some cheesy psychosexual dynamic with a hustler;

c) asses, asses, asses, pecs, abs, asses, pecs, then more abs;

d) Wilson Cruz.

Most gay-themed indies will have at least two of these on the checklist, save for anything by the Todds (Haynes and Solondz)— but they’re anomalies. The vast majority of movies with gay themes are, let’s be real, unwatchable. They’re alternately self-congratulatory, overly campy, crude and badly acted/directed. The old saw that we always hear is that gays are way stylish, and always have good taste. Sorry, but it just ain’t true. An evening spent watching the flicks on Logo or the Here! network will send all but the most passive viewers screaming for the hills.

This is not to say that I don’t love gay themes— believe me, I love a good gay movie when it comes along once every ten years or so. So then why exactly are the best movies about gay life or interests of the last 20 years directed almost exclusively by straight men or women?

*NOTE: The 70s don’t count. We had Fassbinder and Schlesinger then.

Maurice. Brokeback Mountain. Humpday. The list goes on and on. And now, from Darren Aronofsky, we have BLACK SWAN, a movie that’s gayer than Bobby Trendy getting a Cosmo enema on a pride float.

While BLACK SWAN may not be a “gay” movie to most audiences, gays will feel like it’s a Christmas gift just for them. Here’s why:

The movie features:

a) Barbara Hershey as a boundary-free head case of a mother who makes her tormented daughter Natalie Portman do degrading things like eat pink frosting;

b) Pretty girls losing their minds/getting paranoid/getting jealous/doing ballet/eating each other out/stabbing each other backstage;

c) Winona Ryder getting drunk and saying things like, “Did you suck his COCK?”;

d) a neurasthenic, broken heroine who puts herself through HELL;

e) more backstage psychodrama than you can shake a stick at, and

f) sly references to every gay showbiz camp classic from All About Eve to Showgirls.

This, friends, is a recipe for THE GAYEST MOVIE EVER MADE. It has more bitchface than a Real Housewives of Wherever reunion show. It hits every little thing that camp-loving gays cherish— and yet! In the hands of Aronofsky, the movie only feels self-aware, not actually campy— it’s a Giallo treat. It’s probably the most playfully horrifying movie about mental illness ever.

Also: it’s extremely tense. In the hands of a lesser director, BLACK SWAN might easily have fallen prey to its laughable showbiz cliches— but Aronofsky manages to keep your balls in a knot for the whole 100 minutes with only a handful of (intentional) laughs.

I don’t wanna get tarred-and-feathered by GLAAD here, but I don’t know if any gay director but Todd Haynes might have done a good job with this material. I use him as an example because he’s the only director I can think of (other than Tarantino and Rodriguez) who’s so blatantly cribbed from a particular genre in order to make a movie that’s both an entertainment and a commentary— Far From Heaven. Haynes manages to indulge in all the earmarks of Douglas Sirk’s weepies without falling prey to melodrama— and the same can be said for Aronofsky, though his primary aim appears to be over-the-top melodrama. He winks at the gay camp classics he’s aping without indulging in what makes them (let’s face it) lousy movies— and therefore never has anything but total, wrenching control of his story. Like Haynes, he makes sure his form stays his function— and in Portman, demands nothing less than zealous, hysterical perfection— ironic considering the overall theme of BLACK SWAN. No out-of-nowhere diva antics here— every crazy moment is rooted in real emotion and desire. It’s what makes the movie so thrilling, wild and exhausting— and it’s shot with such a cold, clinical eye for its heroine’s suffering (despite the sudden glimpses of overwhelming sensuality) that it could only have been directed by a straight man. While Haynes can’t be called a sadist with his camera, he does know when to stop: shirtless shots of Dennis Quaid are deemed irrelevant to the story. And while BLACK SWAN does feature a detour into lezzie action, it’s not for titillation (unless you dug it, perv)— it’s necessary to the evolution, or de-evolution of the movie’s central characters.

Look, there are great gay directors out there— Tom Kalin, for one, though he only directs a movie, like, every hundred years— I guess I just wish that most of them had a better imagination. It took Aronofsky ages to finance BLACK SWAN— apparently it kept falling apart, over and over— an unsurprising fact given that it’s about a 90 lb. crazy girl doing ballet.

So, my fellow gays: demand headier entertainments when browsing for something that’ll tickle your pink gene. Chances are that the movies that rock you will be light on the sex and abs, and heavy on the subtext— and will have a hetero pal in the director’s chair.

11

Nov

HOUSE (1977)

I know how you feel. We’ve all been there: sitting on the couch at night, crumpled tear-stained tissues at our feet, ice cream all eaten, wishing for something different to watch. Something special. “If only,” you say (and I like to picture you all speaking things like this out loud, eyes pointed heavenward), “there was a film out there that combined the best elements of Josie & The Pussycats, J-Horror, The Evil Dead, LSD and 1980s TV sensation The Facts of Life! Then, and only then, would my life be complete!”

Well child, you best mosey on down to the Criterion Collection website (www.criterion.com) and cough up $25, because Nobuhiko Obayashi’s HOUSE is now available for the first time in the United States. The “story” (as I’ve come to understand it since finishing the movie, and since the dizziness subsided) consists of a troupe of horror-movie stereotype girls that head off to the countryside to visit an elderly relative who lives alone with a fluffy white kitty. Said elderly lady is in fact not as friendly as she seems, and has decided to eat all of these girls to maintain her youth. Luckily for us, she eats these girls in the most bizarre, hysterical ways possible.

Severed heads, haunted hair, blood-spewing cats, hungry pianos, killer futons— HOUSE is the most imaginatively loony movie I think I’ve ever seen. Obayashi employs every trick in the book to create an atmosphere that conjures the madness of early Sam Raimi— yet predating his style by several years. From scene to scene, you’ll get everything from David Selznick to David Lynch.

It’s rare to see a movie both this fucked up and aggressively cheerful. HOUSE is a paranormal movie on mescaline, the batshit brainchild of a man whose initial aim was to create an event movie for Japanese audiences that “would be a big hit like Jaws" (!). Knowing that most filmmakers, tasked with replicating Spielberg’s thrill ride, would simply make a thriller about killer bears or ants or whatever, Obayashi spent time with his then-10-year-old daughter to ask her what sort of fantastic, frightening things she would be excited to see in a movie.

It’s amazing just how much of her vision Obayashi transferred to the screen, and each set piece’s wild imagination and silliness somehow makes for a cumulatively chilling and nutty treat.

I truly hope that Tokyo drag queens are re-enacting this in a club somewhere. In a world where mass-produced movies are looking the same, HOUSE brings the crazy.

29

Sep

JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)

I’m a sucker for movies in general, but I’m especially a sucker for scare pictures. A sub-category of scare pictures I’m especially partial to is best described as Ladyhorror.

Ah, women. What mysterious, wonderful creatures! What secrets they keep behind those doe eyes, those puzzling smiles! I love women. I love stories about women. And I always love stories about women who are flesh-eating succubi from hell who will stop at nothing to chow down on man-meat to maintain their gorgeous complexions, Colgate smiles and bafflingly lithe figures. It goes without saying, therefore, that I was basically the target audience for Diablo Cody’s sophomore effort, JENNIFER’S BODY— and though it’s an imperfect film, it sticks in my brain to this day.

Ladyhorror really hit its stride back in the seventies, when a trip to the cineplex could yield a possessed tween masturbating with a crucifix, a menstruating teen blowing up her high school, or Sigourney Weaver battling a giant, acid-spewing penis from outer space from putting an alien bun in her oven. Ladyhorror makes a lot of people uncomfortable because at its roots, it’s about drawing a line in the sand between genders: no man will ever understand any woman, and that every woman possesses destructive power beyond our wildest nightmares. Ladyhorror (though birthed in the 30s thanks to crypto-lezzie flicks like Dracula’s Daughter) was born from cultural hand-wringing due to feminism’s second wave— and I dunno about you, but we’re still waiting for that third wave. Sex & The City 2 may count as a horror movie to most of us, but it’s not exactly the kind of scare I had in mind. I may be wrong, but it seems to me like the role of women in popular media has been returned to being accessories, handbag hunters, cocktail pirates. Conservative female pundits can be found at any hour of the day decrying feminist ideology on TV, which is ironic considering that they’re actively enjoying the hard-earned fruits of their Lady Warrior Sisters’ labor. Women aren’t really allowed to be dangerous anymore in media. At best, they can be “complicated,” or “difficult,” but there’s ALWAYS a scene where they’re shown to be a Dedicated Mother, or a Devoted Wife, or Dedicated To Serving Justice. This is known as the “Candace Bushnell Effect.”

It seems now that not even women want to see images of women as dangerous or vengeful. Ladyhorror has hit an all-time low in popularity. When viewed through this lens, it’s a miracle JENNIFER’S BODY got made at all— and no surprise that its reception both critically and commercially was chilly.

I guess this is the reason I will defend JENNIFER’S BODY to the end. Sure, it has awkward patches in the direction. Sure, it never quite finds its groove as a full-on horror flick. Sure, people may be suffering from Megan Fox Fatigue. But Goddammit, hold on a second! Isn’t this movie’s existence alone a cause for celebration? A movie about teen girls that does not involve traveling pants? A babysitters’ club? Sparkly vampires?

I say yes. Disagree with me if you must, but young women are woefully under-serviced in the imagination department these days. OK, we’re stocked to the gills with stories about how a girl’s besties are, well, a girl’s best friend, but what about a good old-fashioned cautionary tale? JENNIFER’S BODY is just that, a tale of toxic friendship, of a girl learning a hard-won lesson: that even though you’re cautioned against boys when you’re in your teens, your worst enemies might be at your weekend sleepover, in the pink sleeping bag next to you.

Earlier this year, THIS MOVIE EXISTS covered Heathers (1989), perhaps the touchstone high school toxic friendship parable. Heathers made its mark through wildly inventive dialogue: no one at Westerburg High spoke like anyone you knew. They were wittier, nastier and more dangerous than any girls you knew— and face it, you knew some mean girls. We all did. Cody wields the same tools to different effect, using her own turn of phrase to create a teen girl’s vocabulary that lives on its own planet. Whereas Daniel Waters made the Heathers’ talk a lethal weapon and was rewarded for it, Cody garners a lot of internet invective for the same efforts.

OK, I know, I know. I’m a broken record. And though I am probably the world’s biggest Heathers fan, I have one final point to make: Daniel Waters completely lets Veronica off the hook for having been a participant in this horrible clique, this rash of murders. She gets to walk off into the sunset. No one in JENNIFER’S BODY is given such a reprieve.

On the contrary: Jennifer Check (Fox) is actually complicit in, if not responsible for, what happens to her. She gets drunk at a bar. She gets into the skeezy band’s van, an “‘89 Rapist.” She may not deserve what happens next (y’know, getting turned into a demon succubus), but with that last look Jennifer gives to her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried)— a look that screams They want to fuck me. What else am I supposed to do?— Cody is practically saying that Jennifer should have known better. The horror in this movie comes from a girl’s need to be desired and objectified by men (cough Bella Swan cough)— and in Jennifer, she’s flatly stating that this is the most self-destructive impulse any woman can have.

It’s the movie’s casual examination of this kind of troubling teen behavior— and its ripple effect upon everyone who experiences its results— that make JENNIFER’S BODY a piece of Ladyhorror worth watching. Ladies, share it with a girlfriend whose ass you want to kick. 

11

Sep

DANGEROUS GAME (1993)

Madonna can act.

I know. It’s a controversial statement considering the majority of her output. But humor me: let’s hop into THIS MOVIE EXISTS’ patented time-travel bumper car back to that fabled year: 1993!

Boy, was 1992-1993 a rough time for Madge. She got a lot of flack for waving her hoo-hah at us in three (count ‘em), THREE different mediums: music, print and film. First up was Erotica, a CD that served to explain to the public Madonna’s fetishy side through pop music. Songs about wanting to tie you up, father issues, being a bad girl and how exhausting it is— though repetitive, the album is actually pretty good, and has aged fairly well if you’re a gay person who went to college in the 90s, and are feeling drunk/campy.

Then the screaming starts.

The Sex book, though a commercial success, was a major source of trouble for our libidinous lady. Steven Meisel’s peek-a-boo pictures of Madonna hitchhiking nude, cavorting with men and kneeling over mirrors were accompanied by stream-of-thought text from Ms. M, imparting such nuggets as “my pussy has nine lives” and “I like looking at my pussy.” Well, sure! Lots of people did… but that was only under the assumption that Madonna’s yoni was a wondrous gateway to behold! 

The next installment in Madonna’s World Concupiscence Tour  would be the coup de grace that would send her underground for a while, to lick herself her wounds and re-emerge with the classier Bedtime Story.

Body of Evidence. Oh, God. Where to begin? Whereas Madonna’s little Ciccone was before a symbol of liberation, ecstasy and thrills, Body of Evidence was a story about how her kiki was a lethal weapon, used to kill priapic older rich men in cold blood. Willem Dafoe plays a dumb lawyer who’s horny enough to sleep with crazy client Rebecca Carlson (Madonna) in a variety of unappetizing ways: on broken glass in a parking garage, using candle wax, and more! There’s also a scene where Our Lady is slapped around, then gets it in the butt without the benefit of KY— and likes it. Later, she gets shot. Roll credits.

Critics everywhere ate her alive for this movie, which was inevitable considering that we’d been subjected to her sexual free-for-all for months now. In her pantheon of looks, this was the period she was working that horny-sex-nanny-in-a-beret thing, and her smugness in interviews, coupled with her apparent single-minded quest to make you whack off to her, nearly did her in.

To say that Madonna is wooden in Body of Evidence is to denigrate trees. Though a versatile performer who’s withstood the test of time, Madonna’s work in cinema has been pretty spotty, and Body is the cherry on top of a bad acting sundae (Swept Away and Shanghai Surprise, to name a few).

But wait! Lost in the rubble of this movie, book and album is her best performance— and that’s not meant as faint praise. Abel Ferrara’s DANGEROUS GAME, a film co-starring Harvey Keitel and James Russo, is a shining example of Madonna’s acting potential. The story of an indie production about a man who abuses his wife because she’s had a religious epiphany, Madonna manages to exude sensuality, fragility (!) and fury in ways that feel uncalculated— and watching it, you may find yourself slack-jawed at the performance that Ferrara yanks out of her.

The film itself is mostly memorable for her performance— the plot is about how making a movie about losing control can cause the filmmakers to lose control in their own lives blah blah you become your work blah blah rich people with shaky morals blah blah blah. Ironically, it’s the little-seen DANGEROUS GAME that provides the most vivid picture around of Madonna at her most naked.

Rumor has it that Ferrara tricked Madonna into the performance upon noticing that  rehearsal takes displayed fine, unself-conscious acting— and that she froze up as soon as she knew the cameras were rolling. It’s said that he ended up using all “rehearsal takes” for her scenes in the movie. Whatever. Whether it’s true or not, Ferrara’s approach worked.

We all know that Madonna is a celebrity who’s very aware, and in control of, her public image. After being crucified for Body of Evidence, Madonna was quoted as saying this about DANGEROUS GAME:

Even though it’s a shit movie and I hate it, I am good in it.

She’s being sort of harsh— the movie is flawed, but it does hold some strange, claustrophobic power. Ferrara, incensed at Madonna’s apparent race to discredit the movie before critics did, later gave an interview stating:

Madonna killed it. She thought she was going to beat the critics to the punch and badmouth the film. And she actually got good reviews. She never got a good review from the Voice or The New York Times in her life, but she got good reviews for this movie, which she came out and trashed. I’ll never forgive her for it.

Yikes. In the years since, Madonna has endeavored to show us she’s a woman adept at everything, from yoga to writing to music to directing. Acting, in the larger public’s opinion, has always remained a little out of reach.

Though her dismissal of DANGEROUS GAME might have been a reactive ploy to deflect any more bad press, this movie nevertheless exists to serve as solid evidence to the contrary.