We saw Wicked at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood Sunday night as part of our holiday extravaganza. After a first-class flight and stay at a wonderful hotel right on the ocean (with non-stop sea lion "singing" day and night), seeing Wicked was icing on our amazing vacation cake.

I'll talk about the show in a minute, but I want to describe background details first that made the show extra special. First, the Pantages is this amazing theater that was remodeled some few years back to its original art deco splendor. Out in front were some of the celebrity stars that line the Hollywood "Walk of Fame," including my mom's octogenarian hero Carol Channing.

To this coolness was added extra spectacle when we learned that Carol Kane was starring in Wicked as "Madame Morrible"! It was great to see her do her stuff live, and to hear her unmistakable voice and comedic timing.

But an additional star moment was still in store. As I looked across the aisle and up two rows from our eighth row center seats (!), I saw Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen (and son?) out for the evening! His legs were stretched into the aisle (he is incredibly tall) and she looked gorgeous. Most audience members didn't seem to recognize them, though one woman ran up for autographs. I decided not to bother them with another request. (I've always loved Steenburgen since 1979's Time After Time with ex-husband Malcolm McDowell!)

Then, of course, was the show itself. The sets were an ornate and gorgeous spectacle. The giant dragon with his red lighted eyes and movement at crucial powerful moments was amazing, though did not seem to have any relationship to anything going on in the show. I don't think Oz was mentioned as actually having dragons or mythical creatures, really. Just talking, humanlike animals that were being increasingly oppressed and silenced. Hmm.

The costumes throughout were also gorgeous and spectacular. The ensemble had many wonderful changes of character and costume, from the Les Miz-ish street ensemble at the beginning to the Rocky Horrorish Emerald City denizens and their green spectacles. I imagine it was great fun to design all this for the costumer and set designer.
The acting (including leads that had already done the roles on Broadway) was strongest when comedic, but the singing was glorious. The two leads, Eden Espinosa and Megan Hilty, could belt like nobody's business, and I do adore Broadway belters. Kristoffer Cusick as Fiyero was, to me, the weak link, with a weak boyband singing style and cockiness his talents did not merit.
The music itself was a bit less enthralling than the set and ambiance of the show. Stephen Schwartz (of Pippin and Godspell fame) is not one of my favorite composers. You could feel the Pippin-esque quality of several songs, and this didn't move me. "Popular" is incredibly cute, "I'm Not That Girl" is sweet, and "Defying Gravity" has a catchy hook. (Chad liked "No Good Deed," though I cannot remember the melody being strong, just the message of the words. Suffice it to say: the concept of the show (based on a novel) is compellingly theatrical and familiar--yet with the new message that wickedness is about the perspective from which you view it. I definitely see why it is so successful, and even a few memorable tunes is more than many composers can give us. And he wrote "Colors of the Wind," which is cheesy Disney, I know, but I do love the melody. A nice Jewish boy made good (but why a Jew wrote Godspell is something I guess I'll have to research if I really want to know).
I will add that the show definitely felt like it could only have been staged in a post-Harry Potter world, with images, characters, setting, and mood that really felt Potterish (both novels and films). The many echoes (of Potter, Pippin, Rocky Horror, and even Les Miserables) did bother me a bit, left me feeling the show was leaning on too much else too obviously. But it was still a wonderful night and I'm glad I got the chance to see such a strong production.


My favorite Christmas Season Miracle Picture

Hey Kids!

The Catholic Church (NY Archdiocese)

has released a new coloring book

that will miraculously solve

all the predatory priest problems,

just in time for Christmas!

But is it just me...

or does that priest

look rather perverse?

like he's just done something naughty

with that angel in the doorway

to make her smile extra brightly?*

* Wow, I actually think this image shows the Church's true plan. It's not breaking your priestly vows if you shag an angel! A perfect solution for all, from mentally ill priests to innocent little boys to the hardest hit of all, those embarrassed archbishops and their boss!


Enchanted? Not so much.

Well, what can I say. It’s the kind of movie that triggers lots of superficial conflict and cultural anxieties for me. When I like it, I know I’m slipping down that slope to hegemonic sell-out land. Where it annoys me, I know I’ve made the argument a million times before (to myself and anyone who will listen, take my courses, or read my blog). And I can’t change the world to be more analytical except by one willing, sympathetic soul at a time.

So. Enchanted: This Disneyfied almost-Princess finds herself tossed into NYC 2007 and must survive til she can be rescued by her Prince and return home. She’s entirely ill-equipped, of course, to navigate our world. And so there’s superficial pseudo-post-feminist critique there momentarily. The classic western fairytales all involve ill-equipped lovely maidens being rescued. I prefer Sondheim.

That our heroine manages to get NYC pigeons, rats, and roaches to clean her rescuer's apartment is fascinating, especially as what passes, then, for “clean” is roach/rat/pigeon-cleaned clean. Which I enjoy. All animals are new “friends” to our heroine, and I do love her holding up and singing to a CGI roach at one point.

At the same time, I’m groaning from my absolute knowledge that this film will end “happily ever after,” and the odds are that the soft-spoken NYC hero won’t end up with his careerist “professional” (a.k.a. pseudo-post-feminist) girlfriend.

Along the way, I’m enjoying the song and dance numbers and the absolutely irresistible message that we all need a little magic in our lives. Heaven knows, these sorts of films beg us to acknowledge how dull and painful our lives are. And sometimes in some ways they certainly are. But then they offer us a few minutes in the dark of a fantasy we cannot possibly achieve as our “reward” for our acknowledgment. I say the payoff is woefully inadequate and just leads to further depression or unrealistic expectations of what "happily ever after" is truly about: a lot of luck and a lot of relationship work.

(I’m also NOT enjoying the little girl in the film. Lousy actress and annoying to watch. What producer's kid is this that she got the part?)

Anyhow. Back to the fantasy. I predicted at the beginning that the princess would become the magical catalyst for the main fella, helping him and his girlfriend to live happily ever after. I kept saying, “Well, at least it won’t be him ending up with her! She needs to go back to fairyland with her incredible childlike naïveté that men with midlife crises often want and divorce their wives for then go, ‘Oops, I seem to be married to someone without maturity, self-insight, or adult goals.’ Guess I'll cheat on her now."

Halfway through the flick, though, I look at my son and say, “Yep, they’re going to end up together” as I push away my over-salted popcorn. I also predict at this point that the workaholic girlfriend (who really we don’t see developed at all as a character, resting so fully as she does on stereotypes of “Today’s Woman” that she doesn’t need development) will end up with the clueless Prince, which she does. That she has to go all the way to Disney fairytaleland to achieve happiness is really sad and, I think, a message the writers feel oh-so proud of. Aren't we clever? We acknowledge that careerist women are as unhappy as men! That the writers believe that this woman would truly want to live the rest of her life with a braindead prince, of course, tells me they’re either all men in midlife crisis wanting to excuse their own sexism by pretending women are just the same as men, or they're women who’ve bought into this mythology, too.

But yeah, ok, corporate life does suck mightily, and I understand why the girlfriend wants out. It’s just that presenting these fantasy extremes just doesn’t help us out, either as real solution or as truly pleasant diversion.

The price we pay for each moment of laughter in a film like this does trouble me.

I will say this, though: I noticed the wrinkles around the super-skinny lead actress’s eyes as she played her bimbo-voiced, wide-eyed wonderfantasygirl and fashion designer. And I thought: Susan Sarandon looks better. And I’d rather be the Wicked Queen than the Bimbo Princess, every time. Am sure Sarandon agrees.

Tell me: Are there truly no new stories to tell?


The Quality of Attentiveness

Part of the pleasure of doing Streetcar was reading scholarship on it. I realize this is not everyone's cup of tea, but it helped me grasp possible ways to play the role and is also just part of my pleasure in reading literature. One early article I discovered online, by George Toles, dealt with studying drama and also doing drama. This isn't an area of scholarship I've investigated much, oddly. I often keep my acting separate from my studies. But reading this Toles article impacted my studies and my portrayal of Blanche and my understanding of A Streetcar Named Desire as a play. One quotation in particular has stuck with me beyond its ramifications for being Blanche, and I've put it in my signature line in my email and thought about it a lot. Here it is:

"Sometimes another person can arrest my sense of absence from life by remembering that I exist, and making that memory tangible through their quality of attentiveness. I come to believe once more (through another's belief) that I am situated, openly, within my life, that I belong to a world that actually contains me. I am sustained by finding myself at home in another's gaze. And once revealed in this other being's sight, where there is room for me to remember myself, I can turn back to my separateness and not be annihilated by it."

Specifically, Toles is discussing the final scene of the play, in which Blanche rises from having been pinned to the bed by a nurse when a doctor holds out his hand, calls her name, and brings her back, arguably, to a sense of herself. There are many ways to play this moment: is the doctor manipulating her to keep her calm and out of the need for a straightjacket or does he truly care? Is Blanche regaining a bit of sanity and personal power or slipping back into her Southern belle role, attempting to flirt with the doctor to earn the privilege of leaving the room in a relatively dignified manner? Toles describes what may be happening to Blanche at this moment of eye contact with the doctor in the quotation above. But I think he's also describing an important interpersonal moment for all of us who seek approval in the gaze of another.

In film theory, the concept of the gaze, particularly as the "male gaze" discusses the way looking can be political, especially when it is the camera or male protagonist looking at a more passive female subject. The hero rescuing the damsel in distress, the teen boy looking through a peephole at the showering co-ed, the femme fatale caught in the sights of the detective's gun, or a million other similar scenarios with male as active and female as passive. The oversimplicity of this model has, of course, been considered. From issues of race and class and how they modify gender to historical specificity in impacting meaning and from the lesbian gaze to parodic use of the gaze, we understand that this formula may not always apply or apply the same way.

This quotation at first troubled me because of its talk about being sustained in the "other's" gaze. The language of woman-as-other, and how many women may seek validation for their existence through male attention, was problematic for me. And so it is for Blanche, who walks off stage -- whether she is proudly walking on the arm of the rescuing doctor or falling prey to a foolish self-delusion (again) that some man is going to rescue her from herself and from death -- still the same woman obsessed with men.

And the actor is also desperate for the gaze, the insecure "look at me" aspect of theater for the performer. And I am definitely an exhibitionist, not a voyeur. I'd rather act than direct, rather sing than be sung to, though I do not consider myself pathological or abnormal here. I also enjoy seeing good theater, listening to good music, watching films, etc. But that's not really the depth of what this quotation does for and to me.

I also seek validation for my insecurities based on other aspects of my life choices and personality. I feel alien and "other" sometimes, based on my political views and worldview (Left, vegetarian, feminist, pacifist, Jewish American, athiest, outspoken, bisexual, etc.). And so yes, sometimes someone just meets my gaze, literally and, more importantly, symbolically, and I feel at ease, at home, and safe -- for at least a moment. It can come in very differing forms, such as a comment to me that lets me know I've truly been heard or reading a perspective I share and need to hear in Mark Morford's SF Gate column or a negative film review of some hideously popular film that I hated but almost everyone else on the planet seems to have loved. It gives me a moment of feeling safe in the "gaze" of the person or the writer or whomever, and, as Toles says, I can safely "remember" myself, be myself wholly and know I'm not alone. And then, fortified by this reflection, I can continue to be my pessimistic idealistic self, my nervous dominant with the heart of gold self, my wild thing meets doting mom self, and many other selves that aren't always met with praise or understanding in this "my way or the highway" culture.


Tennessee Williams and DESIRE

I’ve gained new (or perhaps renewed) respect for Tennessee Williams of late, as I enmesh myself with his worldview in A Streetcar Named Desire. He is so right on when he argues, through Blanche and really the whole play, that Desire is the opposite of Death. I know for certain that various forms and manifestations of desire motivate much of my life, from the more obvious to the more implicit. Sex, theater, teaching, writing, activism, parenting: so much in life is so much about Desire. And the more Death you see, the more Desire you need to muster to keep feeling alive -- and as safe as a very unsafe existence can allow. The distinction helps me understand a lot about myself, the risks I take – wise and unwise, the multitasking I do, the constant need to fulfill a drive that seems inexhaustible: no amount of publications, no number of shows, no high enough teaching evaluations, no ample enough times of saying or hearing “I love you”… I just need more more more to feel good about myself, to feel safe, to feel alive. So, bravo Tennessee Williams: your words and being Blanche have helped me uncover another layer of myself and this crazy species we are.


Death and Friendship

For whatever reason – chance, the Fates, karma, bad luck, just life – death of various sorts has been resonating in my life this past year, leaving me hurt, thoughtful, and struggling to accept myself as I am.

The true manifestation of death closest to me is, of course, my Dad, almost a year ago. As my mother put it, life feels unreal after my Dad’s death. Something askew. Which really means that mortality has never felt so real. And who wants to know that. Knowledge of mortality inspires so very much of what human beings do and how we do it. It doesn’t seem to traumatize the elephants, but it does us. In this culture, it motivates everything from youth obsession and conspicuous consumption to poetry and daredevils.

But I’ve also been dealing with rejection-as-death this year, having unintentionally chosen to invest myself in several friendships that ended badly and with complete severance of contact. I am the type to always maintain a friendship at some level, disliking any sort of permanent ending and feeling there is always something positive to come from two people who care for one another, even if there is great distance between them of some kind (physical, emotional, intellectual, etc.). Friendship closeness can just be the knowledge that we care, even if we talk rarely and just think good things about and for each other. Or it can be frequent contact and sharing life narratives and emotional needs. And anything in between. But I don’t sever contact, and I loathe rejection. It’s death. This is not to say I’ve never rejected anyone. But if there’s been emotional closeness shared, I do my best to keep good energy between us always.

This past year, I’ve had friendships wax and wane, and I’ve had several go bad in painful ways. And all with men. Hmm. On the positive side, I remain deeply bonded to my wonderful and loving husband, and plan always to do so. In addition, I have several close male friends who are not freaking out or severing ties. I also have strong and close female friends, from longterm childhood friends to more recent theater pals.

But the rejection from male friends really has me hurting. That ability to compartmentalize that some (many?) men grow into from childhoods in which they’re told to toughen up for the big hard world (or however they come by it) is so alien to me that when I come face to face with it, I feel shocked, astonished, and helpless. I can explain some of this to myself sociologically and psychologically, and that’s fine for the intellectual end of the “dealing with symbolic death” equation. But what about my gut, my heart?

Yes, I invest myself deeply in friendships with men and women, and I know many people do not. They “reserve” deep caring for their partner or family only. But I don’t. If I care about someone, then I just do. And the men I’ve been hurt by this year did care, did show strong signs of valuing my friendship. But they were able to distance themselves, sever ties, and do it absolutely. I just plain don’t get it. Yes, I know one of them is having marital issues and is not very effective in communication, and I do not want to be in the middle of that. One has never had a successful long-term relationship, and I don’t even know if he has any close friends. He’s a loner and I was wrong to think he’d be able to maintain a friendship with me. (Ah, the temptation to link friendship with therapy is strong in me.) And the friend I’d had for 3+ years decided he needed only friends who have no critical thinking skills. At least that’s how I read it from a distance of a year of no contact.

And it’s the no-contact thing that I’m complaining about here. Yes, friendships come and go – just the nature of them. But a need to never talk again? I just loathe feeling forced to remove a cell phone number from my phone and knowing I cannot call to ask a question or share a success. It hits me very deeply, and moreso since my father's death.

All I can do is ask: Why invoke that kind of death when death is all around us already?


Religious Harassment: Can I Get a Witness?

In completing an online educational “module” related to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, I began to think about the importance of having sexual harassment addressed, legally and morally, in the workplace and, simultaneously, about how other kinds of harassment in the workplace are left entirely ignored. The major gap I’d like to preach about and decry here is religious harassment.

When Christians preach directly at me in a workplace situation, I consider this a form of harassment. I’ve had students proselytize in my direction, for example, telling me I need to find my way to Jesus, that I’m in danger if I don’t, that they can get me literature to read or a church to attend, etc. One young man kept it up until I finally stopped dead in my tracks as he followed me to my office (for the third time in a row after class), faced him down, and told him, as politely as I could, that I was tired of assuming and reflecting back to him that he meant well. I told him he was not only wasting his time but actively and overtly insulting me, condescending to me, and alienating me – from his beliefs and from him as a person. He seemed thoroughly shocked to hear this, as if it had never in his wildest dreams occurred to him that his behavior could be seen as inappropriate, much less insulting and alienating, or worse, let me hasten to add, harassing.

In the online lesson on sexual harassment, I read this quotation: “An example of third party harassment may include direct (or telephone) conversations about sex in the hearing range of others to whom it is unwelcome. Such behavior must be stopped if others request it or if management becomes aware of the behavior.”

It makes perfect sense in some ways. Listening to someone talk in insulting or objectifying manner about their sexual conquests while I’m trying to work or in order to distract or disturb me could easily become harassment. Yet, the idea that just being overheard talking about sex at all could lead to a harassment suit made me think about our prudishness as a society. Still, in a gracious society where we err on the side of caution, I respect the concern.

That said, I resent that I could say “Please stop talking about sex in front of me and keep your ‘Pornstar’ or ‘Don’t Assume I’m Not Into Cheap, Meaningless Sex’ t-shirt covered” but could not say “Please stop talking about Christianity in front of me and keep your ‘Denial Won’t Help When You Stand Before Christ’ or ‘The Rapture is Coming: Are You Ready?’ t-shirt covered.”

The truth is that we have no “religious harassment in the workplace” protection or training courses anywhere that I know of. And I want some.


Streetcar Named Desire: Being Blanche

Going against type and what the director was kind enough to praise as my large "toolbox" of acting skills, I have been cast as Blanche in a local theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire (get ongoing show info at the Center for the Arts website). I am honored and thrilled (and no little dose awed by the number of lines to memorize). I also had to wrap my head around how I fit Blanche. It is certainly easiest to cast Blanche as a willowy woman with a shake in her voice, looking like a kitten in the rain. But my director and I share the perspective that Blanche can be most compelling if she begins the show as a woman who has mustered all of her strength for a last shot at convincing others she is not the fallen, broken woman she feels herself to be deep down. Then, the show progresses and shows her fall apart completely. The movement from stronger to entirely broken could be so heartbreaking to watch compared to a more weak woman losing her last shred of hope. And that's how we're going to play it, though the rehearsal process should help us try out many subtleties along the way.

This will be my second lead in a Tennessee Williams show. I did Maxine in Night of the Iguana ten years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. Blanche is a much more challenging part in terms of her volatility. Maxine was confident and comfortable as a sexually predatory lush. And what fun to play. I hope to learn new things about myself, Williams, and acting through this experience. What does not kill us makes us stronger -- and this is going to be a LOT of work!

So far, my best motivator has been the director's confidence in me as well as her husband's, the man who will be playing Stanley. He and I have awesome onstage chemistry, and that should help a great deal to allay any last fears I have. In addition, I saw Ann Margaret's made-for-TV 1984 rendition, and she definitely plays the part similarly to what I will. Here she is:

I won't look like her (ha!) but she played it very strong, low-voiced, and sultry rather than flighty. It should be an interesting ride!


Insomnia Cure

Like anorexia, obesity, addiction to Warcraft, and fundamentalism, I think insomnia is a product of our culture. Rather than interpreting these various phenomena as "purely" psychological or physiological, a social view of U.S. culture as having certain toxic effects helps one not to blame oneself for various dysfunctions and addictions.

I am somewhat of a light sleeper to begin with, and stress means that if I wake during the night (to pee, because the dog needs to go out, because my son wakes and calls to me, etc.) it can be hard to fall back asleep. When I had Lane, I also had baby-related insomnia in a big way: by the time he slept through the night, I couldn't. A therapist recommended an excellent book, Say Goodnight to Insomnia and I recommend it heartily for the clear, calming, book full of good sense that it is. Really helped me to know I would not die of insomnia and that I could be ok in time. I also took benadryl, which had the lovely effect of giving me a solid 6 hours a night but dried up my milk so I stopped breastfeeding much sooner than I'd planned. (My OB should have warned me, but did not, dang it.) Some folks can't do the Benadryl/Tylenol PM type route because it makes them wonky for too many hours (or days), but at least it's not addictive and doesn't give you short-term amnesia and cause you to crash your car like Ambien! (I have friends who have experienced both!)

But I've found myself a new cure that works best of all: books-on-tape and my iPod. I have a bunch of books of light and frivolous nature (most by P.G. Wodehouse) on my iPod, and I simply turn them on very softly and listen when I wake in the middle of the night. Except for the harsh nightlight that is the iPod screen, it doesn't disturb my spouse beside me, doesn't involve altering my body chemistry, and can be used over and over. Between free downloads from the public library and iTunes, I've got wonderful radio plays and classic literature, silly comedies and mindless mysteries. I have new books that I haven't listened to for when I first lie down to relax me if I need it (instead of TV) and old favorites (especially Wodehouse's Blandings Castle tales) that I know almost by heart.

I find myself wondering if I'm the only one who does this. In any case, it really works for me.


Holocaust Imagery in Recent Films

There was a huge mound of discarded children's shoes in Pan's Labyrinth and another of peasants' shoes early in Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Mountains made of the shoes of the slaughtered (whether by a horrible Freudian monster or a monstrous government) is an easy invocation of horror and an obvious allusion to the Holocaust (one of the easiest horrors to summon for our twenty-first-century western consciousness).

These two films were so very different in focus and tone, yet both use this stock Holocaust image to magnify/simplify our awareness of Evil in the deaths of "chosen" people: children--the ultimate innocents--in Pan's Labyrinth and those who resist the government in Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Pan's Labyrinth arguably earns its usage: the Holocaust is part of our consciousness and unconcious fears as viewers, plus the filmmaker wishes to draw connections between the Spanish fascists of the Spanish Civil War era and the Nazis. By comparison. Pirates 3 is all about shortcuts that maximize pathos with the least amount of filmic space (so we can get to the action-adventure scenes, the special effects, and the Johnny Depp scenes).

Yet I am surprised to have found this image in both films. Has anyone noticed similar imagery in other films recently?


Well Fallen, Mr. Falwell

So, Jerry Falwell is dead. May his legacy of hatred and intolerance join him in the nothingness that I believe meets us all at death. May all the wickedness, cruelty, bigotry, and hypocrisy he spouted vanish into resounding silence for the future and instant forgetfulness smack into the minds of his followers with the same certainness in which his life ended (sans rapture, I might add).

I almost wish I believed in hell at times like this, for that is surely where Falwell would be right now if it existed. In sincerity, though, I simply wish that respect, tolerance, love, peace, kindness, gentleness, honesty, concern, care, and fun would find their way into the hearts of the Religious Right, and especially into their leadership.

Morality does not necessarily come with religious faith and, often, the opposite seems true: the louder the voice from the pulpit or the pew, the more immoral and irrational. Falwell did grievous wrong to his constituency and to all those who lent him even half an ear for half a moment. We can see it in his every word, but I don’t want to reprint them here lest they pollute the internet more than they already do. (But do visit
Mark Morford’s Falwell column to read some of the saddest and most evil and know fully whereof I speak.)

When you’re through, you might want to read the wit and wisdom of that bizarre combination of iconoclast and neocon
Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com or watch him on CNN, spouting anti-Falwell/anti-religion rhetoric with more persuasive and powerful gusto and sparkling white male Britishness than anyone else on the planet can muster (well, there’s always Richard Dawkins). I am so glad ethical athiests are starting to have some voice in the media!

To conclude, let me add how much I resent Falwell for making me have to write this blog entry. We all have better and more positive things to do with our time than combat the evil he spewed into the world in his power-mongering way...evil that will continue to impact this nation's populace and leadership, sadly, even after his death.

I think today would be a good day to plant a tree in reverent honor of a future without Mr. Falwell in it. And hug your LGBT friends. (Any excuse for a tree or a hug is good, eh?)


Vonnegut's A Man Without A Country

I just finished reading Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country. It's full of powerful opinions from the Left, wise and well-earned outrage. In fact, I don't think I disagreed with anything he said, though I have my own pessimistically idealistic feeling the species won't die out in the next 100 years, even if we are speeding towards doom at a rate unprecedented or unimagined by previous generations. Each generation has doom-predictors: we're just moving faster because our technology moves faster. And, in this country, because we let the dumbest and greediest lead in every facet of life. The book reads quickly and smoothly and delightfully in a pithy, witty, and often powerful way. From religion and politics to death and the arts, I share his perspectives.

Vonnegut does disappoint me, however. Or no. I could tell where he'd go in ways that I've grown accustomed to yet regret. Old-school white male focus is my frustration. He makes reference to men and women (with only one chapter doing a bit of Venus and Mars, and then only superficially), but all the wisdom he finds -- in literature, politics, arts, sciences, and his personal experiences -- come from the minds, mouths, and pens of white men. Lincoln, Hemingway, Twain -- I could catalog it but I won't. But references to famous wise women are absent, with the single exception of one reference to a few word's from Emma Lazarus. And people of color are praised for maintaining extended families (Navaho, the Ibo) and the Blues (African Americans), but only Martin Luther King is named (in passing).

We are products of our times and places and Vonnegut's more wise here than foolish...though it would have been so nice to write this post without a caveat. Hence, I'll end it elsewise.

Kurt is up in heaven now; and if this isn't nice, I don't know what is.


Labyrinths Beat Bridges Every Time

Have meant to blog about Pan’s Labyrinth for some time, but haven’t gotten to it. Life has kept me away from the blog too long. Have been doing lots of theater (just finished Chekov’s “The Bear” and now am cast as Lois/Bianca in Kiss Me Kate). And work has been hectic, with me having to chair our biennial Women’s Studies Conference. But why blog about that when I can blog about Pan’s Labyrinth and Bridge to Terabithia!

Pan’s Labyrinth
is a rich yet broadly scripted film that I did very much enjoy. My enjoyment was qualified by what I considered a very unnecessary amount and type of violence plastered all over the screen in places. We know the commander is an evil bastard from the moment we meet him (or before, when the young female protagonist is told to call him Father and doesn’t want to). But when he crushes her hand upon meeting her, we know he’s a sadist with no conscience and, for this Grimm’s fairytale-like narrative, enough. But no, we get gratuitous (imo) scenes like him punching a man in the face until he’s dead (I turned away, perhaps he punched him elsewhere or did other things, but I couldn’t look and plugged my ears, too). Other scenes were arguably more necessary in their violence, like when he stitches up the gash in his mouth and it has psychoanalytic vaginal overtones. But mostly I think the graphic violence was about director del Toro having been the director of flicks like Mimic and Hellboy.

The plot was arguably also not particularly original: the little girl who escapes the bad world around her through fantasy tainted by that world. There’s no escape is the message. And she dies as a martyr, also wringing the tears from us and evoking Jesus and not wildly original.

The fantasy world and its creatures were damned creepy and intense, though. One monster that eats little children (we see the carnage in Goya-like paintings and in a pile of children’s shoes that is directly evocative of the Holocaust – as are other elements as this is fascist Spain). I think of it as the miscarriage monster and it’s gorgeously hideous and a Freudian field day to analyze.

I also adored the use of sound in the film. Creaking leather was big throughout, as were the creaking building, beds, creatures, and humans. I’d need to see the film again to analyze that element further, but it definitely caught my ear.

By contrast, I have far less of interest to say about Bridge to Terabithia, which used some similar images: fantasy as escape for kids and marred by real life ugliness; martyred little girl. I think my very negative response to the film comes at least in part by how wrongly it was advertised. There’s precious little actual fantasy in the film and the ads make it look like a lovely little escape. I’d never have taken my son to Pan’s Labyrinth because I knew it was adult content with a child actor; I wouldn’t have taken him to Bridge to Terabithia either, if the ads had represented the content accurately.

As another reviewer my husband read (sorry, no citation at the moment) said: the film cannot bridge the gap between the touching fantasy escapism and the grim reality of killing off the seventh grade girl. She is the heart and soul of the film, the savior and martyr, the delight from beginning to end with her individualism and her pain, her enthusiasm and her art.

The plot is contrived, beginning to end. The boy who is ignored by the impoverished and too-full family, desperate for Daddy’s love but Daddy gives it only to his baby girl: not original. Suffering bullies at school, having a crush on a teacher: blah blah blah. And then here is that teacher. Totally hot hippy music teacher (who’d have been fired for singing hippy songs at my son’s school) suddenly gets the brilliant idea to pick up and take ONE YOUNG BOY to the museum ALONE. Can you say Statutory Rape Charges? It’s all “necessary” to show the boy be selfish for one stupid moment so the glorious girl can have an accident when alone and he can feel guilty the rest of his life. Or at least until he reconciles everything by donating his fantasy world to his undeserving little sister. What an ending. Dreadful.

In the end, both films left me conflicted. But Pan’s Labyrinth is ultimately a powerful and compelling film with evocative and rich imagery – a compelling filmic experience. Bridge to Terabithia, by contrast, is an unworthy mess.


Dog Whisperer Fan

I confess it: I love The Dog Whisperer, on many levels.

First, the dog psychology Cesar Millan uses is absolutely practical, useful, and right on the money. We’ve taken our basically good but nervous dog Josie and helped her be more secure, calm, and obedient in only a few days using Millan’s simple, common-sense method.

It is amazing how repetitive the show gets while remaining entirely watchable. I can now predict exactly what he’ll do or recommend on every episode, with the same sparkling results every damn time. The people always overindulge their dog, let it run the house, and substitute affection for discipline in a way the dog does not understand. The dog thinks that its neurotic behavior (whether aggression or nervous anxiety) is a good thing when the people use love and affection to try to calm it down, and in five minutes Millan takes the dog for a walk and gets it obedient and calm, even if it takes him getting bitten a time or two to do it.

I also enjoy the show because Millan is such an entertaining little macho powerhouse. I don’t think I could stomach him if he were only macho, though. He actually does seem to care about the owners and analyzes and treats them like a good therapist while smirking his “seen it all” smile as they think their situation with their dog is entirely unique and out-of-control while he knows it’s just another typical owner not giving the dog enough exercise or discipline.

Moreover, Millan and his dog pack definitely have a literal and symbolic “animal magnetism” that is engrossing to watch, and I definitely find myself attracted to him and his human-dog worldview.

I really want to see the South Park episode with Millan disciplining Eric Cartman and my Dog Whisperer life will be full! The excerpts I saw on YouTube were hysterical!

Meanwhile, how about a Cat Whisperer to get our fluffy monsters to stop clawing the furniture!