Tag Archives: Religion

Link Dump: #15

It’s that time of year again! The “most wonderful time”! The time when you start feeling bad about how inadequate all the presents you’re giving are (and all the people you’re forgetting), when you feel guilty over not being able to spend enough time with family, when it’s cold as fuck outside and a new year is looming around the corner. Wonderful.

This week’s special Xmas kitty comes courtesy of Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), because Ashley vetoed my selection from A Garfield Christmas (1987). And now I have an inadequate present for you, dear reader: links! Here’s the best of the Internet for the past week:

  • Andrew Pulver of The Guardian wrote this terrifically in-depth essay on Jules Dassin’s great noir Night and the City.
  • From the “What If?” Department: Victorian Star Trek, complete with sepia tone.
  • The verse may not be great, but Adam Watson’s “Dr. Seuss does Star Wars” drawings are hilarious. Especially Jabba.
  • Vulture has “2010’s 25 Best Performances That Won’t Win Oscars,” many of which are dead-on, and contain a few more end-of-year overlooked movie suggestions.
  • Slate Magazine has 17 overlooked Christmas movies, including All That Heaven Allows and Eyes Wide Shut. That’s my kind of list! Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club has three more, one of which features Jimmy Durante and a squirrel.
  • The San Diego Film Critics Society gets my admiration for 1) being one of the few critics’ groups to break with the Social Network solidarity and 2) actually making interesting, wide-ranging choices. Scott Pilgrim! Shutter Island! Never Let Me Go! Variety!
  • Here’s a hilarious top 10 movies list from Lisanti Quarterly. I seriously can’t wait to see The Super-Loony One.
  • But with all this year-end cinematic partying, we can’t forget the year’s worst movies: here are lists from The Film Doctor, The Telegraph, and The A.V. Club.
  • The ultimate holiday present: zombie-centric reinterpretations of beloved movies!
  • You know what’s really threatening America? Businesses that say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Thankfully, some clever Who down in Whoville came up with GrinchAlert.com, where irate customers can put Baby Jesus-hating stores on the “Naughty list,” and presumably boycott them. (Go sarcasm!)

As your reward for receiving the above gift, here’s a bonus: the past week’s wacky search term action! I was greatly amused by the horny redundancy in “i like sex and pussy also” and the saccharine overkill of “animated smiling heart.” Someone accidentally created a porno spoof title with a dash of Latin by searching for “dr. jekyll et mr. hyde fuck.” (Let’s not dwell on the mechanics of that action, by the way.) Lastly, I’m kind of baffled by all the hits from “fogging cockroach.” Maybe they’re searching for an exterminator? FYI: Pussy Goes Grrr is not a bug extermination website. We also can’t recommend any good ones. Sorry, and have a happy winter!

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One Hour Mark: The White Ribbon

This is a dour image from 1:00:00 into Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning period piece The White Ribbon (2009). Conveniently for me, it’s also near-identical to the film’s poster, and therefore pretty emblematic for the whole movie. This is Martin, one of the disturbed children living in Eichwald, Germany just before World War I. Eichwald has been the site of a series of mysterious, violent attacks in the style of Bergman’s The Passion of Anna (1969), and Martin – along with his sister Klara – is somehow connected to this intangible evil.

He’s also the son of a strict pastor, one of the town’s guiding authorities. At this point in the film, his father is giving him a stern (and emotionally abusive) lecture about the dangers of self-abuse, bullying his son into a tearful confession despite never raising his voice. The scene is a microcosmic demonstration of Haneke’s grand thesis throughout the film: that the atrocities of the twentieth century are rooted in the sins of the fathers – i.e., the psychological damage that children suffer at the hands of their hypocritical, puritanical parents, and the irrational, destructive behavior patterns in which that damage manifests itself. Think of The White Ribbon as an austere, postmodern Rebel Without a Cause.

It’s also one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen in theaters. Christian Berger, the DP, shoots it in such pristine black and white that it feels as if the screen is about to ice over. Here, the photography complements the rigidity of life in Eichwald, as each character is bound by a set of painful social and religious strictures; in Martin’s case, they’re symbolized by the titular white ribbon tied to his arm, which his father put there as a reminder of purity. Under the pastor’s iron fist, personal freedom something foul which must be hidden behind locked doors and under bedsheets.

The scene takes place in the father’s den, which is neatly decorated with all the trappings of middle-class propriety: a bookshelf, a little bureau, a cross on the wall (and, behind the camera, a desk and birdcage). As Martin stands there stiffly, he’s circumscribed by these visual tokens of patriarchal authority, being simultaneously tormented and indoctrinated. His face sours into a guilt-riddled scowl and he averts his eyes from the camera’s gaze, even as his father opines that a child guilty of chronic masturbation had “avoided looking his parents in the eye.”

Leonard Proxauf, then only 14, plays Martin as a sad-eyed, fearful child with a not-quite-concealed capacity for evil, emotionally torn apart by his father’s impossibly demanding brand of anti-sex Christianity. Haneke never draws too straight of a line between these teachings and the frightening bursts that punctuate the film’s gloom, but it’s clear that the pastor’s lessons of self-hatred and self-esteem-destroying proclamations are important factors in the evil that engulfs the town. The moral poison surrounding the children of Eichwald is ultimately untraceable, but its seeds are everywhere. When they engage in unpredictable spurts of violence, it’s reminiscent of that classic anti-drug PSA: “I learned it by watching you.

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Perfectly Cromulent Analysis: Bart Sells His Soul

Just before the month ends, here’s July’s analysis of The Simpsons‘ brilliant, multifaceted artistry. (All previous entries can be viewed here.) Perhaps The Simpsons‘ most dazzling feat was its ability to emanate such crusty cynicism while retaining a core of profound sincerity. And I’m not referring to the saccharine sincerity of sitcom “very special episodes,” either; I’m talking about moments that disclosed what the show’s writers really believed in. They were moments of vulnerability suggesting that the Simpsons weren’t just cartoonish punching bags, but real people with real beliefs, desires, and fears. “Bart Sells His Soul,” which hails from the beginning of the seventh season (and with it, the Oakley/Weinstein era), is 20 full minutes suffused with this same vulnerability. It’s about a young boy’s spiritual self-discovery through “suffering and thought and prayer,” as Lisa puts it. Even for a show as adventurous and groundbreaking as The Simpsons, that’s pretty heavy stuff.

The show, however, acquits itself impressively with an unflinching gaze into the essence of Bart. Yes, Bart: he of the chalkboard gags, the skateboard, and the mouthy t-shirt slogans, the envy of every kid alive in the 1990s. But, of course, beneath the too-cool-for-school posturing, Bart has always been just another 10-year-old, and “Bart Sells His Soul” even-handedly interrogates the disparity between image and reality. The episode opens with a brazen prank as Bart hands First Church of Springfield parishioners the lyrics to a “hymn” entitled “In the Garden of Eden” – really Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” a 17-minute relic of psychedelic rock. The disarming audacity with which he deceives the congregation epitomizes, as the French would say, the “Bartesque.” He tricks the churchgoers into eating his shorts, and then tells them not to have a cow, man.

Reverend Timothy Lovejoy, however, does nothing but have a cow. He’s Springfield’s envoy of tradition-bound organized religion and therefore a major figure of patriarchal authority. He’s also, in keeping with the show’s anti-authoritarian satirical outlook, ridiculously incompetent. From the outset, he’s gullible and out of touch. “Wait a minute,” he opines to himself, an eyebrow raised, “this sounds like rock and/or roll!” After his flock has been humiliated and exhausted, he takes the church’s youngsters aside and feeds them a Mad Libs-style script of fire and brimstone so as to force a confession.1 But Bart repeats the lines right back with an air of blasé disinterest. To Bart, Lovejoy’s threats of eternal damnation are just as impotent as Principal Skinner’s threats of detention, and it’s both because he’s an untamable rebel, à la Brando in The Wild One, and because these patriarchs are so neurotic and hypocritical.

As voiced by Harry Shearer, Lovejoy is a model of Middle American self-righteousness. His every sentence has the same pompous intonations, rendered ineffectual by his slight lisp, and his face is usually furrowed in the same disapproving frown. He mechanically advocates an impersonal brand of Christianity; it’s not hard to see why Bart dismisses his sermons and, with them, the adult world’s belief in the soul. Bart, a veteran trickster, is too sharp to be so easily duped.2 Milhouse, however, is just sheepish enough to give in, and Bart is outraged when he lets faith trump friendship. The two of them have an argument that brings questions of personal identity down to a 10-year-old’s level – to hell with the mind/body divide; what if you die while in a submarine? Incensed at his friend’s willingness to swallow adult lies, Bart exclaims, “Listen: you don’t have a soul, I don’t have a soul, there’s no such thing as a soul!” And to demonstrate his prioritization of money, a pragmatic, real-world concern, over religious dogma, which he regards as nothing but a collection of fairy tales,3 Bart strikes the titular bargain.

The first challenge to Bart’s cynical materialism comes from his sagacious sister. Unlike Lovejoy, Lisa doesn’t have any hypocritical motivations to espouse the concept of the soul, and unlike Milhouse, she doesn’t confront him with a mess of folk beliefs and fear-driven superstitions. Instead, she has her faith in the soul’s symbolic value, which is deeply rooted in her sense of self rather than any specific belief system. Bart and Lisa’s conversation in the driveway is really the kernel of the episode’s deepest philosophical exploration: here are two children in the America of the ’90s, where all traditional authorities (government, businesses, media, schools, churches)4 have been thoroughly discredited. So what do they put their faith in, and how do they define themselves as human beings? Whereas Lisa has her own simple, functional theory of the self,5 Bart has pranks and cold hard cash – his is a reactive ethos, as he prefers to beat society within its own system rather than formulate one of his own. He comes to regret his hubris, however, after the rest of the episode delivers a concussive wallop of spiritual horror.

Ashley told me that she once thought “Bart Sells His Soul” was a Treehouse of Horror episode, and it’s understandable given the events that round off the first act. Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II growl and hiss at Bart, respectively, with no apparent motivation; the Kwik-E-Mart’s automatic door admits the pious Rod and Tod Flanders, but not him; and he can’t even fog up glass with his breath. It all plays out very ambiguously, with only the subtle, subjective implication that these are the consequences of selling one’s soul. Its primary effect isn’t outright fear, but more a feeling of unsettledness. As Bart grumbles when his face smacks against the door, “This is getting weird.” The final, unsettling straw is when Bart loses his ability to enjoy Itchy and Scratchy. Lisa quotes Pablo Neruda: “Laughter is the language of the soul.” I love Lisa’s role in this episode: she’s at once the precocious, argumentative little sister and the voice of reason, sincerely worried about her brother’s well-being.

She tests Bart’s capacity for laughter by making Homer trip and get his head caught in the stairs. While Bart would normally be the one causing such mischief, he’s now incapable of enjoying it, and Lisa concludes, “I think you really did lose your soul.” As before, in Lisa’s reckoning it doesn’t matter if the soul is “physically real,” or if Bart’s sense of humor is merely a psychological (and therefore not “real”) casualty of his exchange. The point is that Bart’s mistake, in giving up a part of himself, has left him unable to properly interact with the outside world. He returns to Milhouse, who’s undergoing no such tribulation but is instead carrying on with his childhood; unsympathetic to Bart’s angst, he offers to sell the soul back only at a wildly inflated price. Facing a potentially permanent existential quandary, Bart can now see beyond the petty, childish dealings that were once his métier.

In a scene that’s at once touching and disturbing, Marge detects something “off” about Bart’s hug. She considers the usual diagnoses for a troubled 10-year-old – “it’s not fear of nuclear war… it’s not swim test anxiety…” – but when Bart suggests a missing soul, she blindly dismisses it: “Aw, honey, you’re not a monster.” These dead-on mother/son interactions are some of those vulnerable moments I was speaking of: Marge does her best to assuage her son’s very palpable fears, but inadvertently exacerbates the situation. Here, The Simpsons is speaking to a very critical youth/adult disconnect. It’s not the jaded mistrust that characterizes Bart’s relationship with Lovejoy or Skinner; it’s a painful breakdown within the core of the family. And it has none of the mawkish sentiment that abounds in some of the weaker family-centric episodes. It’s just a moment of very real emotion and very dark humor, as Bart’s mother implicitly but unintentionally calls him a soulless monster and turns out the light.

Then we get one of the series’ great dream sequences, complete with pink, Seussian landscapes, green skies, and eerily sweet music. All the other children are playing with their souls, as represented by phantasmal blue outlines of themselves; they jump into rowboats and head toward an Oz-like emerald city on the horizon. Bart, however, is left alone – so here, the loss of a soul becomes the loss of a friend, and Bart is condemned to be left behind. This dream really crystallizes the episode’s child’s-eye-view of the soul. It’s not about what adult authorities think the soul is; it’s what Bart learns for himself, through his anguish. His long nightmare lends him insight into the soul’s true meaning: it’s about identity, belonging, humor, companionship. As the third act confirms, “Bart Sells His Soul” is really about how Bart earns his soul.

Like “Homer’s Enemy,” this episode has a much, much lighter subplot to complement the main story’s existential heft. In it, Moe converts his once-dank tavern into a tacky family restaurant. The two storylines intersect when Homer takes the family to Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag. Lisa says a spiteful grace in which she emphasizes the word soul, prompting Bart to run off into the night, and he enters the final stage of his grueling spiritual odyssey. There’s little real analysis to be done on the Moe subplot; suffice it to say that it’s a much more expected sitcom story, and its easy jokes definitely alleviate some of the episode’s overall bleakness. As it approaches its climax, it gets very bleak: Bart faces one terrifying anomaly after another as he descends into Springfield’s desolate urban depths,6 from an exterminator clad in a Vader-like suit to a cackling street cleaner. Finally, he runs into Ralph Wiggum and begs desperately for Ralph’s soul. It’s so bizarre, albeit strangely plausible, that it’s easy to miss the frighteningly real portrayal of a babbling schizophrenic in the same scene.

Bart’s attempt to track down Milhouse proves pointless, however, as Milhouse has already resold Bart’s soul so as to purchase the most ephemeral, meaningless toys of all – ALF pogs. Bart visits the buyer, Comic Book Guy, who reports that an unnamed party bought it, and that they “were most interested in having possession of little boy’s soul.” Here, the languages of preteen consumerism and spiritual self-identification are oddly but seamlessly mixed. Rather than being just the product of obsolete superstitions, Bart learns that the soul is surprisingly relevant even in a world where the al-ighty ollar7 is the end goal of all transactions. Finally, he resorts to a long, earnest prayer: “I just want it back. Please? I hope you can hear this…” and with that, Lisa gives him back his soul. Note that I don’t say “gives him back his sheet of paper.” By this point, that paper has been so imbued with meaning that, as far as the viewer’s concerned, it is his soul. The episode ends with Bart dreaming again – but this time, he has his soul as a rowing companion, and they ram Martin’s boat. Bart has fought and prayed, and now he has his self back, prankish and rebellious as ever.

“Bart Sells His Soul” is both a child’s fable of loss and retrieval and a mature rumination on postmodern spiritual bankruptcy. With Bart, we see adult hypocrisies as ripe for skewering, but we also endure an episode’s worth of self-inflicted suffering, culminating in a newfound humility, and a gratitude for one’s own identity. It’s cathartic without being melodramatic, instead attaining its considerable emotional pull in the traditional Simpsons way: through nonstop jokes, which are sometimes brutal and dark, but still spot-on. The episode is also a tour de force for Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart, who shows impressive range and accuracy in capturing the scope and detail of a 10-year-old’s worldview. “Bart Sells His Soul” is unequaled in the rest of the series for its fearlessness in stripping away the façade and revealing to us who Bart truly is, soul and all. And that ain’t not bad.

So, what do you think of this episode? And which one should I tackle next? Leave any suggestions in the comment box below.

1 I especially liked the “murderers and single mothers” line as a jab at Lovejoy’s outdated but indignant worldview.

2 Unless, of course, the religious authorities lower themselves to his level, as with the Li’l Bastard Brainwashing Kit in “The Joy of Sect.”

3 They’re lies and fairy tales, however, with very pragmatic, real-world rewards, as the episode bitingly demonstrates when Milhouse asks, “What would [religions] have to gain?” and we cut to Lovejoy dumping collection baskets into a coin-sorting machine.

4 Read: Quimby, Burns, Brockman, Skinner, and Lovejoy.

5 This presages her conversion to Buddhism, but her beliefs are stated so much more elegantly (and less stridently) here than they would be “She of Little Faith” and subsequent episodes.

6 The episode’s writer, Greg Daniels, says that Bart’s nocturnal trials were partially inspired by Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and it shows, including just a touch of the same manically black comedy.

7 See “Team Homer.” I couldn’t resist.

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The Wicker Man: Sex, Songs, and Summerisle

[The following was written by both us as part of the Film Club over at the horror blog Final Girl; go check them out. Also note that spoilers are abundant, like crops after a human sacrifice.]

Andreas:

Last night, Ashley and I watched Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) together for the second time. It’s a fascinatingly dense movie, one that begs to be rewatched, brimming over with conflicts: between the insular culture of Summerisle (a fictional island in the Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland) and the outside world; between puritanical repression and sexual liberation; between superstitious tradition and scientific modernity; and between poor, misguided Sgt. Neil Howie and the pagans he runs up against.

The Wicker Man is such a strange, unconventional horror film. It starts out as a rural mystery, when Sgt. Howie comes by plane to Summerisle to search for a missing girl, Rowan Morrison. And, unsurprisingly, the film pulls out the old “all is not as it seems” card – but the trope is deployed in such a creative way that the viewer’s never really on solid ground. The inhabitants of Summerisle are like a society beholden to trickster gods, refusing to give Sgt. Howie (and, in turn, the viewer) any clues except those which are methodically parceled out: a little girl’s story about a rabbit, a doctor’s cause of death, a gravestone. But the whole mystery is like a conspiracy of red herrings, in which every citizen of the island has a part to play.

This investigation is complicated by the unreliability of Sgt. Howie himself, a troubled outsider who turns to his faith in Christ for answers. As played by the late Edward Woodward, Howie is easily disturbed by the behaviors he witnesses on Summerisle, and spends much of the film standing at the edge of the frame, staring in horror at the heathen rites being celebrated. He comes with the authority of England’s law (making him “king-like” in the pagans’ eyes), yet finds that Summerisle doesn’t play by his rules. He only has a badge, but they have deeper, older magic.

Even when he’s not actively fighting the islanders’ traditions, Howie stands out in contrast to his surroundings, and this keeps the conflict always visually on the surface. In his black uniform, he makes a bad fit with the rolling green hills and crashing waves, while the pagans are constantly bedecked in smiles and bright, springtime outfits – often reds and yellows. They’re fully in communion with their island, and Howie, as a foreign pathogen, must inevitably be wiped out.

But the film is beautifully, endlessly ambivalent about whose side is right. The islanders are presented as cheerful, earthy, musical people, fully content in their way of life, with Howie as a sour interloper. However, several cracks appear in their façade, suggesting underlying problems with their lifestyle. For example, their very reason for bringing Howie to the island is based in the failure of their crops the previous year, and the film’s ending leaves the question open: will Lord Summerisle be vindicated the following year, or was the island really not meant to bear fruit?

The islanders also embrace a number of irrational, violent traditions, frequently inviting comparison to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” The entire third act is devoted to these increasingly bizarre rites – the animal masks, the pentagram formed by the chopping swords, and finally, the live sacrifice within the title edifice. There’s no real reasoning behind them other than the sheer authority of Lord Summerisle and his ancient pagan beliefs. Christopher Lee is great here; his usual urbane villainy (see Dracula, Scaramanga, etc.) is coupled with an easygoing love of life and sincere desire to help his people.

His charisma and immorality are all the more frightening because they’re not motivated by simple evil, but rather by political necessity and self-preservation. I think this is The Wicker Man‘s triumph: it manages to express multiple nuanced arguments rather than providing the audience with a right and a wrong. It shows us a sexually frozen man always on his guard (reminiscent for me of Batman in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum) as he comes face to face with people enjoying themselves in ways he can’t understand, and at the same time gives us hints as to why we should fear for his life.

It’s a great and blood-chilling moment toward the end when Howie realizes that it isn’t Rowan Morrison who’s in danger at all, and I think this captures the film’s narrative well. It isn’t about the islanders endangering each other’s lives; they act as one. It is about Howie himself, his internal and external struggles, all of which work together to deliver him into Lord Summerisle’s hand. He is the individuality to their conformity; he is the moral guardian to their libertines. In the end, the values and traditions of Summerisle show their teeth, and consume Sgt. Howie within their eeriest and darkest rite, incorporating his ashes into the cycle of death and rebirth.

Ashley:

The Wicker Man is an interesting little gem of a movie. If it weren’t for the fact that most people going into the film expect something of a horrifying nature, you wouldn’t really know what to expect from the get-go. It’s one part mystery, one part horror, two parts musical and just a tiny bit of dark comedy thrown in there for good measure. I’ve seen this movie about four times now and I’m left with a different impression of it each time. With this viewing I found myself taking note quite often of the parallels between Sgt. Howie’s ramrod-straight, religious attitude and the citizens of Summerisle’s free-spirited, phallic-symbol loving, orgies-in-the-field (yeah, there are totally orgies in the field) Paganism.

From the very beginning these differences are one of the main driving forces of the film and I found myself thinking about how off-putting Howie’s behavior is. It makes him kind of inaccessible as a protagonist. Unless you are also a staunch, strict religious person, you’re probably not going to relate to his disapproving, judgmental looks, his tut-tutting of these apparently happy, care-free people, and his unwavering belief that HIS God is THE God and these heathens are wholly sinful and wrong. It’s an interesting trick the movie plays on the viewer; you don’t root for Howie or really want him to come out triumphant because it seems like all the threats he perceives are completely in his head and the product of his own fears and intolerance.

But there is still this underlying sense of unease, just below the surface of the film. You know these people are strange, you can sense they’re hiding something from Howie but is he truly in danger? It isn’t until you get more than halfway into the movie that you begin to suspect that, hmmm, maybe these people ARE really fucked up (in a totally dangerous way) and maybe Sgt. Howie IS in peril.

It isn’t until the very end, for me anyway, when Howie is faced with the titular figure, faced with his own mortality that my heart starts to pound for him and I feel sorry for him and want him to escape and come out triumphant. It’s an incredibly powerful scene; Howie begins to scream out to his Christian God and you feel his terror cut through you. And to the very end, I was noting the parallels between the two faiths: as the effigy burns Howie prays and sings out to Christ as the citizens of Summerisle sing about the coming of summer.

And therein lies something that, if the movie were without it, it would not work as well. The music. This movie is weirdly part musical and it just adds to the ethereal weirdness of the island. Sgt. Howie looks on in disdainful confusion and disgust as the citizens sing lewd songs about the Landlord’s Daughter and as the young boys tug (or jerk) strategically placed ribbons while circling a maypole and learning the importance of fertility during the Maypole Song. Oddly enough, these songs don’t seem random or out of place; it fits so perfectly with the otherworldly strangeness that is Summerisle that it only makes sense that these people like to break out into song.

And the soundtrack, which was entirely composed by Paul Giovanni, is a huge part of the different moods and atmospheres of the film. While the playful, suggestive lyrics and tunes of the aforementioned songs create an air of festivity and liveliness the slower, throbbing, earthier melodies of Gently Johnny and Willow’s Song give portions of the film a deep, strange sensuality: they’re inviting you, tempting you, just like they’re tempting Sgt. Howie, to come deeper into this world of carefree lust and spiritual sexuality.

And speaking of which: Willow. Oh, Willow, be still my heart. Sucker that I am for a beautiful girl, I love the character of Willow. Played with a gentle sensuality and purposeful, knowing innocence by Britt Ekland, she’s a soft, luscious but dangerous aspect of the film. We first see her as the friendly, soft-spoken, object of lust for the inn patrons, the landlord’s daughter of the song, dancing around and bringing dinner to Sgt. Howie.

As the film goes on, it becomes clear, as with all the shady citizens of Summerisle, that there’s more to this salacious siren than originally thought. During a climactic (in more ways than one) scene, Willow sings her song, inviting Howie and writhing sensually around her room, pounding the doors and walls and touching and stroking the many phallic shaped objects in her room.

It soon becomes clear that this strumpet is just like the rest of the citizens of Summerisle: hiding something. She has an agenda, her every move and word have a purpose and it’s all tightly woven into the fabric of the all-encompassing tapestry of the plot. Everything that is said and done by these islanders, from the moment Howie’s plane touches down and even before that, is carefully calculated and purposeful. He was brought here for a very specific purpose: a “willing, king-like, virgin fool” is needed for sacrifice and it’s all so airtight by the end of the film that you are just as stricken by it as Howie is. In so many other movies, with a plot device or requirement that insanely specific it would seem overreaching and ridiculous; but the citizens of Summerisle live their lives by ancient tradition. They put toads in the children’s mouths to cure sore throats. This seems perfectly normal as far as their traditions go. It just happens to be chillingly homicidal.

As Andreas and I were watching last night we talked a lot about how, despite the crazy rituals involved in this Pagan faith, is it any more or less crazily demanding than any other religion? At the core of this film, along with a lot of other themes and ideas, is the idea of faith. What faith and belief makes people do. There are constant clashes of faith between Howie and the inhabitants of Summerisle and neither side will back down from their beliefs, even when it leads to murder. And even the act of murder and death are two completely different things when look at through these two faiths. To Howie and the viewers, he is being murdered. To the islanders, they’re just trying to save their crops. Howie will not die; he will be transmuted into their successful crops.

Andreas:

So that’s The Wicker Man, a film of bottomless complexity which entangles eroticism, religious tradition, man’s relationship to the earth, and utter terror. It’s worth noting that the director, Robin Hardy, has only directed one other film, and has a follow-up to The Wicker Man, entitled The Wicker Tree, due out next year. Will it compare in any way? I hope we get a chance to find out. (There was also a 2006 remake, but we don’t like to talk about that.) Till then, we’ll go on pondering the fate of Sgt. Howie and the motives of the islanders, reaping a bountiful harvest of entertainment from this horror masterpiece.

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Following up: Jack Chick and PSAs

So, tomorrow my winter break begins. I’ll be in Mound (aka suburban hell) for a week, then back here to work as an office assistant for the Cinema & Media Studies department. Exciting! And just before I leave, I want to write a short post following up on some topics I’ve delved into recently, namely Jack Chick’s The Gay Blade and public service announcements.

So, speaking of Chick, I glanced around WordPress and learned that there are, in fact, several whole blogs devoted to analyzing/attacking his work. These include “Our Lady’s Blog: Why is Mary Crying?,” which mainly goes after Chick’s anti-Catholicism, as well as “Investigating Jack T. Chick,” which I consider a worthy cause. Chick’s reclusiveness, coupled with his wackiness, really makes him prime material for wondering, “Who is he really, anyway?”

Like me, “Investigating Jack T. Chick” saw fit to tear apart The Gay Blade; however, they did it more from a Christian, scriptural point of view, observing how Chick’s claims don’t even stick to actual Christian beliefs – and, for all his obsession with biblical fidelity, Chick doesn’t even really quote the Bible correctly (inserting, unsurprisingly, extra homophobia). I don’t agree with the entire article, but multiple points of view on evangelical comic book craziness are always better; also, they link to this great little humorous take on The Gay Blade. My favorite part: “In the drawing here, we can be sure that these men are not gay! NOBODY IS WEARING BIG TINTED GLASSES!”

So, if anyone out there is, in fact, interested in my perspectives on Jack Chick’s viewpoints and artistry, I’m sure there will be plenty more to come. And so, about PSAs: Ashley and I recently watched the Nostalgia Critic’s “Top 11 Drug PSAs,” and it got us thinking about all the exaggerations and insinuations that branches of the U.S. government tried to shove down our throats alongside mid-afternoon cartoons back in the 1990s. For a sample, we turned to the Nostalgia Critic’s source, and looked at Retrojunk.com’s list of ’90s PSAs.

This is by no means a comprehensive catalogue, but it’s a start, and I’d love to explore the content and storytelling of these ads in the future. Some are just surreal and disorienting; others are patronizing and laughable; and yet others are starkly nightmarish. I’d also like to learn more about how they came to be written and filmed – who determined which ideologies they’d be expressing? PSAs are especially interesting to me because they’re like a covert intrusion into children’s culture: amidst all the hyperkinetic cartoons and commercials for toys or sugary cereal, we’ve got these little government-sanctioned voices going, “Don’t do drugs!” or “Exercise!” in all kinds of creative, often unexpected ways.

I’ll probably post more on PSAs another time (I just have the oddest obsessions, don’t I?), but for now, here’s one of my favorites among those we uncovered. It’s not from the ’90s – rather, it was released in 1969 – but it’s so catchy and upbeat. It sounds like the kind of song they’d play in ’70s movies when they wanted to evoke the ’30s. It speaks to a younger, more innocent time in our nation’s history. A time when we all had VD.

That’s right! Kids practicing violin! Librarians, pregnant women, butchers! Ballerinas, old businessmen, babies, joggers! They all have VD! The PSA is one of the few art forms that could turn venereal disease into a loving ballad. The message is definitely a good one, and one which carries over to the present (even if the term “VD,” sadly, does not): e.g., not just gay men and junkies get AIDS. But the way it’s being communicated – it’s so whimsical, so fancy free, just makes you want to dance while carrying a parasol!

So that’s my two bits for the day, digging up some more information about my strange, strange hobbies. Finally, a little note: tonight, Ashley embroiled herself in what we might as well call Squirtgate. Basically, a sex blogger called the Kinky Jew posted this “sarcastic humorous post” about why female ejaculation is “EW.” It’s kind of bullshit. And commenters were not happy, and Ashley was one of them. Definitely go read it for yourself. And now I bid adieu to blogging from Northfield for the next week.

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