Monthly Archives: November 2010

Filth, Fame, and Divine

I really really love John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972). It’s one of the most infamous cult movies of all time; it’s also hilarious, unrelentingly in-your-face, and endlessly enjoyable in the most tasteless ways. Hell, I love it so much that I wrote a 12-page paper on it a week ago called “Divine, Pink Flamingos, and the Politicized Body.” Therefore, I’d love to share with you what I learned from this paper. The fruits of my intellectual labor, if you will! And better yet, I’ll present them via a bulleted list, as my gift to you.

  • The mother: Within the film, Divine’s body is squeezed into a lot of roles. She’s a loving mother, a sexy starlet, and a mass murderer. The conflation of these gendered identities subverts them all, making for some pretty acrid social commentary. Babs Johnson’s brood is the American family run amok (complete with incest and chicken-fucking), and she’s an exaggerated, parodic portrayal of the ideal suburban homemaker – June Cleaver as a fat, foul-mouthed drag queen.
  • Sexualization: Divine (the character) isn’t just a mother; she’s also a horny gal raring for some action. Or as she puts it: “Why, I’m all dressed up and ready to fall in love!” She embraces a clichéd 1950s image of what attractive women are, and how they act, even if that image is self-evidently ridiculous. Like the film as a whole, she undercuts social norms by claiming as her own the lowest, tackiest, most degraded forms of cultural discourse.
  • The transgressive body: Early in Pink Flamingos, Divine buys a slab of meat and warms it up “in [her] own little oven” by holding it between her legs. Later, she barbecues the meat and serves it to her family for dinner. She’s the homemaking matriarch, but she also rubs food against her genitalia, licks furniture, and eats shit. The actions don’t suit the role, but Divine does them anyway.

  • Violence: As Michael Tinkcom points out in Working Like a Homosexual, John Waters totally anticipated the tabloid glamorization of criminals, and did it better than Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994). Divine and her family are a pack of fugitives, “the filthiest people alive,” and this only compounds her sex appeal. As Pink Flamingos sees it, there’s no difference between pin-up and wanted posters. (Female Trouble delves even deeper into this – “I’m so fucking beautiful I can’t stand it myself!”)
  • Celebrity: Pink Flamingos is really about the cult of celebrity. In Divine, his cinematic muse, John Waters blends Jayne Mansfield with the Manson Family. (The film quotes a scene from the Mansfield vehicle The Girl Can’t Help It [1956], and it’s dedicated to “Sadie, Katie, and Les,” three of the Manson girls.) By mixing sex, violence, and press coverage, Waters is essentially writing a love (or poison pen?) letter to postwar mass culture. (Also, for what it’s worth, I think Divine might be the Lady Gaga of the 1970s.)

So there you have it! It’s my reading of Pink Flamingos in just a few bite-sized pieces. It was a little more complicated than that, but you get the general idea. I talked about Rachel Adams’ Sideshow U.S.A., especially her take on Zoe Leonard’s photographs of bearded lady Jennifer Miller; also, I included this very vital quote from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble:

The replication of heterosexual constructs in non-heterosexual frames brings into relief the utterly constructed status of the so-called heterosexual original. Thus, gay is to straight not as copy is to original, but, rather, as copy is to copy. The parodic repetition of ‘the original,’… reveals the original to be nothing other than a parody of the idea of the natural and the original.

So remember that the next time you have to write an academic essay about drag! Finally, I noticed a great visual tidbit in the entryway to the Marbles’ house in Pink Flamingos.

Yes, that’s right: next to that poster for Joseph Losey’s campfest Boom! (1968) is an Andy Warhol print of Elizabeth Taylor. Since I had recently written a paper on Sixteen Jackies (1964), I was very cued into Warhol and his ties to celebrity culture, mass production, and drag. Like Pink Flamingos, Warhol’s work frequently links consumer culture with death, albeit in subtler, less over-the-top ways. More importantly, the grids of near-identical faces in his many series of celebrity prints (like those of Liz, Jackie, and Marilyn) resonate with the ways that Divine imperfectly embodies the personas June Cleaver, Jayne Mansfield, and Charlie Manson.

My ideas about Waters vis-à-vis Warhol aren’t fully fleshed out quite yet, but there’s a start. After finishing this project, I adore Pink Flamingos more than ever, from Ms. Edie’s demented, egg-centric babbling to Connie Marble’s intense bitchiness (“my kind of people, and assholes!”) to, of course, the divine Divine. A final note: If you want to learn more about drag, Divine, Warhol, and everything else, I highly recommend Marjorie Garber’s indispensable and entertaining Vested Interests. It’s a fantastic book.

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Love Behind Bars

“Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage…” —Richard Lovelace, “To Althea, from Prison”

Aww, isn’t Ewan McGregor cute! Here he is, seated opposite co-star Jim Carrey, in their soon-to-be-released romantic comedy I Love You, Phillip Morris. Although Carrey, as real-life pathological liar and repeat offender Stephen Russell, drives the movie forward with his zany con games – some of which work, but most of which land him back in prison – it’s McGregor who anchors it with his adorable smile and misplaced loyalty. His Phillip Morris is the magnetic north to Russell’s emotional compass. And when you look into those oft-betrayed puppy dog eyes of his, you just want to give him a hug (and then some).

But that’s not to diminish Carrey’s brazen lead performance. While he’s occasionally redeemed himself in relatively mellow, pensive roles (like those in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), he’s as over-the-top and manic here as he ever was in infantile vehicles like Ace Ventura or Dumb & Dumber. But his mugging and silliness in Phillip Morris – whether he’s impersonating a lawyer, defrauding a corporation, or trying to get out of jail yet again – actually aid the film’s very real drama, and never go beyond the very real hijinks perpetrated by Russell himself (who, as the film’s epilogue reveals, is still in jail). Carrey’s clowning finally has some maturity behind it.

In I Love You, Phillip Morris, goofiness and seriousness go hand in hand. Yes, Stephen and Phillip meet in jail, with plausible threats of abuse from guards and fellow inmates hovering around them. But that never stops Stephen’s good-natured verbal humor (“…or you can suck his cock”), nor the all-too-sincere romance that flourishes between the two of them. And it’s Stephen’s never-ending wacky schemes that later destroy their domestic bliss, and shatter poor Phillip’s trust. This is a fast-paced Jim Carrey comedy where the stakes are high: despite his knack for improvisation, our anti-heroic funnyman can’t talk his way out of a ruined relationship.

All of this back-and-forth comes to a delirious (and tearful) climax that proves both Carrey’s unquestionable versatility and the talents of co-writer/directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa for melding comedy and drama. Carrey and McGregor’s Texan accents may strain credibility, and the pacing of the film’s earlier scenes may make your head spin, but still, it’s refreshing to see how Carrey’s career has come full-circle – and to see gay characters played as nuanced human beings, flirting only occasionally with stereotype. And, of course, you should watch I Love You, Phillip Morris to be entranced by McGregor’s beautiful blue eyes. Sigh.

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Giving thanks

Happy holidays, to all those who celebrate. It is officially Thanksgiving and I’ll be splitting my day between being at my dad and his girlfriend’s and my mom and her boyfriend’s. Even though I officially live elsewhere now, I’ll always consider my mom’s house home, until they move somewhere else. Then I’m sure I’ll go through an intense displacement crisis but we’ll get to that when it happens. right now I’d just like to take a few moments to talk about the things that I’m truly thankful for.

I’m thankful that my life has changed so drastically for the better. At this time last year, I was working in a job I hated, getting ready for my SATs and just dreaming about how things might get better. I don’t think I actually believed that I would get into college; it didn’t hit me until I was actually moving that it was all happening. Now I’m happier than I’ve been in a really long time; I feel fulfilled in so many ways and like I’m actually putting my brain to decent use.

I’m (still) thankful for the sex blogging community. Even though I’m not as active as I used to be (indeed, my online activities have dropped drastically since I started school), the community is still really important to me. I’d be a much more bored, less informed person if it weren’t for my friends in the sex blogging community. Discovering this community is what initially motivated me to want to be a sexuality educator. It’s completely altered my life in a lot of really good ways.

I’m thankful for all the new people I’ve met; I needed new people in my life for a long time and I’ve met many amazing people who mean a lot to me (including my wonderful roommates).

I’m thankful that I’m in a relationship with someone who is loving and compassionate and respectful; someone who believes that women deserve respect, that sexism/racism/classism/etc. are serious issues, and who isn’t afraid to point out bullshit when it’s right in front of him. Someone who doesn’t think they deserve a cookie for being a decent human being. This winter will be three years since we’ve met and spring will be three years since we’ve been in a relationship. That’s kind of a long time. I hope it continues.

I’m thankful for every single one of our readers. We are but a humble blog and we’re so grateful for all the people who read, comment, encourage, discuss and link to us. You’re all so special to us.

I am getting delirious with sleepiness. I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it and a very happy winter.

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The Blank Wall

Last night, while watching Alec Guinness as the uncouth, incorrigible painter Gulley Jimson in Ronald Neame’s The Horse’s Mouth (1959), I was struck by this image. Jimson, who has a penchant for sprawling canvases, has connived his way into spending the night at an upper-class apartment, and is obsessed with the idea of painting The Raising of Lazarus on a vast, empty wall. The owners have no interest in having it painted; they just want to buy one of his early works. But Jimson decides that he will paint it, even if it means lying, breaking the law, and causing serious physical harm to the owners and their property. Ars longa, vita brevis, after all.

So here, Jimson – wrapped in a plush blanket and suffering from a hangover – gazes on his masterpiece-to-be. The camera pauses in the midst of a dolly toward the wall, hanging back as Jimson takes in the full breadth and width of his designated canvas. It’s a very powerful moment for me, because it’s a reminder of how every masterpiece starts out: clean, blank, empty nothing. Every painting is conjured up out of that nothing; every great novel stains reams of once-white paper; and, of course, every blog post creates new digital information to be indexed. The void is intimidating at first, but it can be conquered. It just takes persistence, aided perhaps by a smattering of talent.

So, in this same spirit, I want you to know that this blog will soon, I hope, be buzzing with new activity. Like I said: all it will take is persistence, and perhaps some talent.

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Holiday Giving Wishlist 2010

It’s that time of year again! I read about this holiday wishlist thing on Essin-Em’s site last year and thought it was a really cute idea so I’m updating our list from last year; a lot of very kind people made several of my wishes come true. If you have a list, please comment here and I’ll link to it!

Step One
– Make a post (public, friendslocked, filtered…whatever you’re comfortable with) to your LJ or Myspace or Blog. The important thing is to make sure these wishes are things you really, truly want.
– If you wish for real possible things, make sure you include some sort of contact info in your post, whether it’s your address or just an email address at which you can be contacted by potential wish-grantors, real or imaginary.
– Also, make sure you post some version of these guidelines in your post, so that the holiday joy will spread.

Step Two
– Surf around your friends list/blogroll/RSS feeds (or friendsfriends, or just random journals) to see who has posted their list.
– If you see a wish you can grant, and it’s in your heart to do so, make someone’s wish come true. Sometimes someone’s trash is another’s treasure, and if you have a leather jacket you don’t want or a gift certificate you won’t use–or even know where you could get someone’s dream purebred Basset Hound for free–do it.

You needn’t spend money on these wishes unless you want to. The point isn’t to put people out, it’s to provide everyone a chance to spread the joy. Gifts can be made anonymously or not–it’s your call.

There are no rules with this project, no guarantees, and no strings attached. Just…wish, and it might come true. Give, and you might receive. And you’ll have the joy of knowing you made someone’s holiday special.

My Wishlist (and by ‘my’ I mean a combination of things Andreas and I both wish for)

Sex related stuff first:

-Good queer porn. I have very little and it is sad.

-A clit vibe. A decent, strong one. My bullet vibe died and it made me and my clit very sad. If it’s strong, I want it. Bullet vibes are great. The Wahl would be awesome.

-Male-centric sex toys. A cock ring, stroker, prostate stimulator, whatever. I have literally no exclusively male toys and it makes me sad for my boyfriend.

-Any alternative material toy. Anything made of glass, wood, steel, aluminum, etc.. I love the idea of all these different materials but sadly haven’t had the chance to experience many of them.

-A set of strong, sturdy policeman’s handcuffs.

So that’s enough for the sexy stuff. Now onto other stuff.

-A bus ticket to Minnesota, one way or round trip. I cherish my long distance relationship but travel is expensive. Bus travel is one of the cheapest (if most grueling) ways. But being poor-ass college students makes it next to impossible for us to travel to see one another. Getting away from this town and to Andreas, for even a few weeks, would be the ultimate gift for both of us.

-BOOKS. This is a big one, important to both of us. Books about sexuality, books about film, books about feminism, books by Neil Gaiman, the Dresden Dolls Companion books, books about art, classical literature, weird books, all kinds of books! And GRAPHIC NOVELS. And zines of any kind. And copies of Sight and Sound and Film Comment magazines. If you think you have an interesting book that we’d be interested in, feel free to email us!

-A Netflix subscription: we need more movies in our lives.

-Plus sized clothes/wide calf boots. I am poor and plus sized, which makes it hard for me to obtain good clothes. I’m a size 3x/4x or 24-26. If you have something that you think I might like, you can ask me for my measurements.

-A futon! Our cats destroyed our couch and we need furniture.

-A way to pay for my next tattoo.

-A completely new and original layout for our blog. It’d be nice to start the new year out with a new look. Maybe a new banner but we’re pretty attached to our Louise Brooks.

-FOOD. Me and my roommates are so hungry, so much of the time. Gift cards to anywhere we can buy food or care packages would be amazing.

-Art supplies. I want to dabble in different mediums but paints and brushes are so expensive. Any old art supplies that may be lying around unused I will gladly enjoy.

So that’s all I can think of. If you, gracious sweet soul that you are, can or want to give us any of these things email us at P.G.Grr@gmail.com. Happy holidays, blogosphere!

Here is a list of other bloggers that I know of who have lists up:
Essin-Em

Epiphora

Mistress Kay

Dangerous Lilly

Juliettia

Dusk In Chains

Screaming Violet

The Blogging Slave

Lucid Obsession

Venus Etc.

A Bedroom Blog

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Link Dump: #12

As you may have noticed, Pussy Goes Grrr has been lying dormant for the past full week. A lot of complicated factors led to this, but they can all be boiled down to one word: academics. Both Ashley and I are full-time college students, which means (as you can imagine) that we’re both busy as hell. Right now is especially bad, as I’m cruising through finals week and struggling to help publish a collaborative graphic novella. That said, we should be back to full speed ahead as early as next Tuesday. In the meantime, feel free to browse our back catalog for old, fun posts, and wish me luck on this 12-page paper about Divine in Pink Flamingos. [Special fun fact: we currently have 666 comments! Spooky!]

  • Watch/hear A.O. Scott talk about American Psycho, a movie that just keeps getting better and better. [Also, I share Scott’s initials. I doubt, however, whether this will help me get employment at the NYT.]
  • From the “Spelling the Downfall of Humanity” file: some models choose to not shave their legs. GASP!
  • Here’s a long, detailed piece on Joseph Cornell’s classic avant-garde short film Rose Cornell.
  • David Thomson has a movie quiz for you – and it’s not an easy one. However, you could win a copy of his Biographical Dictionary of Film. I got 20 of them off the top of my head; can you beat that?
  • Via Jezebel, I saw this video from the NOH8 campaign. It’s powerful and speaks truth to power. Go them!
  • Paul Brunick of Slant writes about Todd Haynes’ Poison in the context of the AIDS crisis. (This is a seriously good essay.)
  • Courtesy of The Huffington Post, here’s a video called “10 centuries in 5 minutes” that shows Europe’s fluctuating borders over the past 1,000 years.
  • And here, from Gawker, is “60 Years of Television’s Most Memorable Catch Phrases in 146 Seconds“!
  • Criterion’s releasing a high-quality DVD of The Night of the Hunter, and the LA Times helps us celebrate with this second look at the movie! (Here’s hoping we get tons of extra featurettes with Charles Laughton interviews.)
  • Film blogger extraordinaire David Cairns of Shadowplay is inaugurating a “Late Show” blogathon devoted to directors’ late or last films, set for this December 14-20! Everybody should participate; I know I will, since the options are endless!
  • True Classics has a neat essay on one of my perennial favorites, Mildred Pierce. It’s always worth reading about Joan Crawford.

For search terms, we haven’t had a whole lot in the way of weird-as-fuck outliers lately, but here’s a sampling: one person looked for the ultra-superlative phrase “extremingly fucking.” You hear that? EXTREMINGLY. Someone else searched for the ever-popular “mother sucks cocks” – presumably in relation to the Exorcist quote “Your mother sucks cocks in hell, Karras…”, but possibly in relation to some incest fantasies. Finally, another intrepid searcher offers up this solid advice: “dont shave your daughters pussy.” Well-put.

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This Ain’t No Party

Todd Solondz’s latest film, Life During Wartime (2010), feels more like a shaggy dog story or a postscript than a full-fledged movie. (The same could probably be said for his last effort, Palindromes [2004].) That doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, but it’s still disappointing, as it dollops out hints of Solondz’s genius for awkward, sometimes icky black comedy without ever giving the audience a full serving. It also has the disadvantage of sitting in the shadow of Solondz’s controversial and razor-sharp Happiness (1998), as it revisits the same traumatized sisters and their families years later. Since it’s about the fallout of the earlier film’s events, it’s understandable that Life During Wartime would be more somber and pensive, but it’s also soppy and aimless. Which sucks, because I love Solondz’s stuff.

In Life During Wartime, the jittery pedophile psychiatrist once played by Dylan Baker has become a ghostlike ex-con played by Ciarán Hinds. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s phone-abusing sex addict is now a tearful Michael Kenneth Williams, Lara Flynn Boyle’s narcissistic go-getter is now a distraught Ally Sheedy, and so forth for the rest of Happiness‘s unhappy ensemble. Recasting every character might seem gimmicky, but fear not; it pays off, if with wildly varying returns. The most rewarding of the newcomers is probably the least expected: Paul Reubens (yes, Pee-Wee Herman) replacing Jon Lovitz as Andy, the nerdy loser who commits suicide after being romantically rejected.

Reubens, then, is Andy’s ghost, occasionally popping up to haunt the ironically named Joy (Shirley Henderson, who sounds like Carol Kane on helium). As I’ve always said, he’s a truly gifted actor, investing Andy with a potent mix of longing, self-loathing, and undirected anger, which boils and periodically bursts. His first appearance, confronting Joy in an empty diner late at night, is actually haunting – and the underlying similarities that emerge between the cherubic Lovitz and the pale, slim Reubens are revelatory. This is Life During Wartime at its best, where the screenplay’s overwrought emotion and credibility-straining conceits are smoothed out by the fine performances.

Alas, most of the movie is too episodic and too reliant on Happiness‘s hard-won success to work this well. The subplot that gets the most screen time, in which the pedophile’s ex-wife (Allison Janney) tries to rebuild her life as her younger son approaches his bar mitzvah, feels largely like a warmed-over rehash of the uncomfortable father/son relationship from Happiness. That film’s disturbing conversations about masturbation are replayed in all possible permutations as little Timmy, who’s almost a man, asks his mother and her beau (Michael Lerner, who’s excellent) about the nuances of pederasty. Worse yet, Solondz aims for political topicality with shoehorned-in mentions of terrorism that only make the film feel like it’s trying too hard to be of-its-time.

Perhaps even worse than Solondz’s misguided attempt to harness the post-9/11 zeitgeist is the parallel and equally unsubtle emphasis on forgiveness. I appreciate that Happiness‘s characters – especially Bill the pedophile, Allen the sex addict, Andy, and Joy – want to unburden their souls and find some sense of spiritual ease. I just wish it flowed easier, instead of being squeezed into every corner of the movie, complete with repeated keywords like “redemption” and, yes, “forgiveness.” This tendency to shove the main themes into the viewer’s face infects most of the scenes about Bill, his ex-wife, and their children, and makes the film feel more like a single-minded tract than a well-rounded story.

Even sadder, Life During Wartime provides its own counterexample through an early, fantastic scene between the slow-burning Hinds and an acid-tongued bar patron named Jacqueline, played by the great Charlotte Rampling. He tries to make small talk, but she cuts through his bullshit with her bile. She tells him about how her children treat her after her divorce, and Rampling’s delivery helps turn the scene into a mini-allegory for Bill’s overarching dilemma:

Jacqueline: They’ve decided I’m a villain. I’m a monster.

Bill: Why do they think that?

Jacqueline: Because I am a monster.

Bill: People… can’t help it… if they’re monsters.

Jacqueline: They can’t be forgiven either.

I wish every scene in the movie could’ve been that incisive and well-written. Instead, I had to settle for one vignette after another that devolved into mushy sobbing as characters averted each other’s gazes. And in the end, the movie just felt like the world’s heaviest trifle. None of the storylines were fleshed out as much as they deserved, but instead rambled on to an unsatisfying, pretentious end. I’m just grateful that Solondz brought back Mark Wiener (Rich Pecci), the nihilistic, computer-fixated brother of Dawn from Welcome to the Dollhouse who also showed up in Palindromes. In each film, he’s both a victim of the cruel jokes that pervade Solondz’s universe, and the only one hopeless enough to understand them; in short, he’s a fascinating recurring character.

So yes, Life During Wartime is a disappointment and wastes much of its potential. But I still recommend seeing it. Even a mediocre Solondz movie is better than none at all, and Life During Wartime has more than enough moments of wit, tragedy, and dark humor to justify its 96 minutes. See it, if only for Reubens’ breakdowns and Charlotte Rampling’s contorted face. Now, we just have to wait another year for Solondz’s next film, Dark Horse, which is going to star Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow. (Can you say “WIN”?) And maybe after that, he’ll get started on Happiness 3, and give his characters the fully realized endings they deserve.

[P.S. – Sorry about the Talking Heads reference in the title. I couldn’t resist.]

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