As I sit next to my wife, the titular (that is, eponymous) black woman of this blog, she’s watching one of her beloved Korean soap operas, streaming on Netflix. The name of the show, she tells me, is “No Need for You To Know.” Even given the vagaries of translation into English, I don’t think that’s the actual name of any Korean soap opera. Google seems to confirm this.
My wife enjoys her secrets. I don’t mind. It’s a kind of game we play. She likes to keep a few things quasi-hidden in our relationship–nothing big, mind you, just small stuff, like her new favorite food truck, or the name of the new Korean soap (or “K-drama”) she’s watching. Then she playfully taunts me about these secrets and I have to try to find out what they are. I actually recommend little games like this. A little bit of harmless mock friction helps keep our relationship fresh. Free advice, that.
What does this have to do with the subject of this latest blog? I don’t know, maybe nothing. Or maybe everything. Because I don’t know what this entry is going to be about. I’m not really motivated to write a blog right now, to be honest. But I know I should, because it’s been months since the last entry and my wife has been (rightly) bugging me about it.
And it bugs me too, as I would hate to deprive my thousands of “fans” (almost all comment spambots for websites selling knock-off Louis Vutton and Gucci handbags) who apparently hang on my every word. So I’m going to blog something. I just don’t know what it will be yet. Bear with me.
Don’t worry, this whole blog won’t be me wondering what I’m going to blog about. That’s too smart-arsed, even for me. I’ll think of a real subject. How about a heartwarming anecdote from childhood? Sure, I can do that. My heartwarming childhood anecdote is, “The Magic Ice Cream Cone Theory.”
Anyhow, as a small child, I was always impressed by the phenomenon of the entire volume of the ice cream cone seemingly magically filling up with ice cream when a scoop of ice cream was placed on top of it. My young mind reasoned that when one is done eating the spherical scoop of ice cream on top of the cone, one should naturally find some kind of void within the cone itself. And yet this never happened. Whenever I ate an ice cream cone, I was always surprised to find that, somehow, the entire goddamn thing was filled with ice cream. It didn’t occur to me that each lick of the cone was pushing the ice cream further down into it. To me, it was a bit of quotidian magic that never failed to delight.
So that was my Magic Ice Cream Cone theory. Ahem.
Yeah, that anecdote sounded more interesting before I actually typed it out. Now that I’ve done so it seems pretty idiotic. Moral of the story: Kids are fucking idiots and think of idiotic things, and when you were a kid you were probably an idiot too.
Okay, so I still need a blog topic. Something easy to write. I could try writing a running commentary on this K-drama the wife is watching, but since I don’t understand the plot, it would mostly consist of me complaining about how every “handsome” young male actor working in K-drama has the same fucking haircut where these swept bangs cover their forehead. I don’t know why, but this style annoys the shit out of me. I want to set their bangs on fire.
Well, I have gleaned one thing from half-watching this show in between typing sentences:The name of the K-drama is “12 Signs of Love.” Its literal title translates as, “12 Men In a Year.” Doesn’t sound too strenuous, really. If that was a Bang Bros. video instead of a K-drama, I doubt it would get very high user ratings.
Alright, enough stalling. I know what my topic will be. If there’s one thing browsing the Internet has taught me, it’s that of the 25% of the Internet that is not pornography, at least 80% of that 25% consists of lists. Lists are the future of content. Buzzfeed has learned this, and it’s about time I did. There’s no more cynically lazy way to create preposterously interesting content than to come up with a “Top [Whatever] List of [Some Shit]” and then let people argue about it. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Let’s make it a movie list. Pretty much everyone likes movies. In fact, as J.B. taught me years ago, movies kick ass. So how about…
Whiteboy’s Top 5 Movie Love Stories
In Absolutely No Discernible Order
(Scattered spoilers ahead…)
5. Take a Bite of Kiwi (Heavenly Creatures)
Quentin Tarantino’s landmark crime epic Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favorite films. A masterpiece in every sense of the word, it changed both independent and non-independent cinema forever, and spawned endless imitators. Most critics agreed that it was robbed of Best Picture at the Oscars, when it lost to the comparatively cuddly Robert Zemeckis epic, Forrest Gump.
But did you know that Tarantino’s magnum opus was not actually the best film released that year? Well, it’s true, you ignorant person. And it wasn’t The Shawshank Redemption either. The best movie from 1994 is Heavenly Creatures, by director Peter Jackson. The movie is about the real-life Parker/Hulme murder case, which scandalized New Zealand in the 1950s. Short version: a New Zealand schoolgirl and an English schoolgirl become, really, really, REALLY, REALLY close friends (maybe lovers), one thing leads to another, and yadda yadda yadda they end up murdering the Kiwi girl’s mother by bashing her head in with bricks in a public park.
Oh, uh, spoilers, I guess…but not really, since you find out in the first 20 seconds of the movie that Mummy is “tirribly hurt.” Then the story of the girls’ whirlwind romance and tragic folie a deux is told in vivid flashbacks. The best bits of the film are the beautifully realized fantasy sequences* in which the two girls imagine themselves in a magical world dubbed Borovnia, which is populated by a rogue’s gallery of kings, princes, knights and knaves, with the girls as the ruling queens.
This was Peter Jackson’s first foray into drama, after cutting his teeth on low-budget splatter comedies (which are quite wonderful in their own right, but give no hint as to the depth of talent on display here). The film also has the distinction of being the only movie in which future Oscar winner Kate Winslet is actually upstaged by a co-star–New Zealand unknown Melanie Lynskey out-acts young Kate by a nose. But both leads are wonderful. Every time I watch the film, I fall in love with the girls and with the beautiful world they create together…only to get punched in the gut when it all falls apart.
When Jackson is firing on all pistons, as he is in this movie, he’s like all my favorite film directors smooshed into one. Like imagine smooshing a bunch of soap slivers into one super-soap that doesn’t just cohere but also gets you amazingly clean, makes you drop 20 pounds, and leaves every inch of your body smelling like rose petals, including your perineum. And that’s pretty much how I feel after the film’s devastating denouement–as if my aesthetic perineum has been scrubbed to a brilliant sheen by a master.
* Heavenly Creatures was made on a shoestring–$3 million New Zealand dollars, if memory serves, which was maybe half that much in U.S. dollars–but the fantasy sequences showed more imagination and beauty than any $250 million CGI crapfest from today. While watching those fantasy scenes back in 1994, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, if this Peter Jackson guy ever gets a pile of money to make a really lavish fantasy film, it could turn out pretty well.” Yeah…pretty well.
4. Virginia Is For Certain Lovers (The Loving Story)
This movie is a documentary, and concerns a real-life couple I’ve mentioned briefly before, in connection with Loving Day, which was named after them. Richard and Mildred Loving were two people who got married in the District of Columbia and then went to live in Virginia, where both were originally from. Shortly after settling down, they were rousted from their beds one night at 4 a.m. by the local sheriff, who put both of them in jail. Their crime? Well, it was the early sixties, Richard was a white man, Mildred was a half-black, half-Native American woman (“colored” in the parlance of the time), and they didn’t have a time machine with which to transport themselves to a more enlightened era.
Not only could white people not legally intermarry with non-whites in Virginia, but they also could not marry elsewhere where such unions were legal (like D.C.) and then return to Virginia to live, as Richard and Mildred had done. Virginia was one of the remaining U.S. states still prohibiting miscegenation through the use of “racial integrity” laws, which had their roots in white supremacist paranoia.
Richard and Mildred had their sentence suspended, but were told they could not live in Virginia. They returned to Washington, but Mildred hated living there and was desperate to return to Virginia to raise her children. The Lovings didn’t have much in the way of money, and could not afford a lawyer, but Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy for assistance, and Kennedy wrote back recommending that she contact the American Civil Liberties Union. She did, and two idealistic young ACLU lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, took their case, which eventually landed in the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967.
When the two nervous, relatively inexperienced ACLU lawyers were about to argue the case before the Supreme Court, one of them called Richard on the phone and asked if he wanted them to convey any message to the justices on his behalf. Richard’s typically blunt, heartfelt response was, “Tell them I love my wife.”
So they told the justices that, along with, presumably, some legal stuff, and in the end, the court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, rendered a 9-0 ruling that determined once and for all that it was no longer lawful for any U.S. state to prohibit…well, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but here’s a visual hint as to how it turned out:
3. Cormac McCarthy’s Madden NFL 13 (The Last of Us)
A plot synopsis of The Last of Us makes it sound rather cliched: A zombie apocalypse has occurred, and a grizzled survivor who lost his daughter years ago is given charge of a 13-year old girl to escort across country. The girl is immune to the zombie plague, but the survivor doesn’t really care about all that, as he’s pretty much emotionally dead inside and is only in it for the money. So he and the girl fight their way through hordes of zombies and equally dangerous, desperate humans on their way to see the doctors who may be able to unlock the key to the girl’s immunity and save humankind. The one original twist is that the plague is actually a version of the real-life cordyceps fungus, which turns its victims into, well, zombies. Pretty horrifying stuff…but fortunately only if you’re an ant or other bug.
With all the zombie-themed entertainment that has flooded the market in the past few years, The Last of Us probably sounds like it would be a rather cliched movie. But of course it’s not a movie. It’s a video game, and the love story between the grizzled survivor and his ward (don’t worry, it’s platonic) ends up being one of the most affecting that I’ve experienced in any medium. The final hour of the game, in which the hero (i.e., you) does some pretty morally questionable things for the sake of his adopted daughter (think mass murder), is one of the most exciting, challenging, ambiguous and yet wholly satisfying endings to any work of art I’ve ever experienced.
So okay, it’s not a movie, and I said this was a movie list, but whatevs. Fuck movies. There will almost certainly not be any movie released this year (or the next, or probably the next) that will be as involving, exciting, haunting, well written and well acted as this interactive masterpiece.
2. Learning Basic French (Amour)
Okay, back to movies. David Cronenberg, in discussing his great 1986 horror film, The Fly, said that his remake of the scientist-becomes-housefly-because-science story, if stripped of its genre elements, is really just a story about a couple in love. One of the lovers contracts a fatal disease, and the other mercy-kills them. The end.
Doesn’t sound like a very fun viewing experience. But with the sci-fi/horror overlay, the story becomes a lot more palatable. Without it, the story would be an irredeemable downer, and no one would want to see it or fund it, Cronenberg said.
Well, no one told that to director Michael Haneke. Amour is the kind of movie that helpfully reminds us crass American moviegoers why European film exists–because there’s no way in hell this story would ever get funded in the states, even as a shoestring independent production.
Amour is about old people, and stars old people (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both amazing). America is a comparatively young country, and likes stories about young, sexy people doing sexy things. And when these sexy young people die, we expect them to die in an untimely and violent matter. But Amour isn’t about that. It’s about someone watching the slow, agonizing disintegration of the person they love the most in the world. It’s about how that love continues to evolve and find expression in the face of mortality. It’s…well, I already sound like a pretentious movie critic, so I’ll stop there.
1. Carriage Driver (The Age of Innocence)
Users of the Internet Movie Database have rated Martin Scorsese’s 1993 romantic drama about 19th century New York socialites a 7.2 out of 10. On the U.S. academic grading scale, that would be a C. For reference, they gave the third Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, a 7.7.
Yeah. I try not to contemplate this fact too much, because it might well [SATIRE] drive me to start an al-Qaeda splinter group of irate movie fans.[/SATIRE].
Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but I can’t help it. I’m a big Scorsese fan. I see every one of his films in the theater upon its initial release, and I don’t do that for any other director (Not even Spielberg). I’m such a fan, I actually know how to pronounce his name (Skor-Sess-Eee). And here is my list of his top three films (Lists within lists now; this is getting pretty po-mo, but bear with me):
1. Taxi Driver. 2. The Age of Innocence. 3. Goodfellas.
Yes, people, I really do think it’s that good. This isn’t just the New York street kid turned director getting to play around with elegant costumes and pretend he’s making something for Masterpiece Theater–this is one of the best, most faithful adaptations of a truly great (Pulitzer Prize-winning, in fact) work of literature ever produced. In fact, if you haven’t read Edith Wharton’s book…well, you haven’t read a book. But whether in book or film form, the story of the thwarted love of Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska is the greatest love story ever told, as far as I’m concerned.
What makes it so great to me? Because it’s not just a story about social rules and how they crush people’s romantic dreams. It’s about how we absorb those rules and end up sabotaging our own happiness even in the absence of external barriers. It’s about longing, and settling, fear of breaking taboos, and the twisted solace that some of the more sensitive among us receive from thinking of ourselves as tragic heroes, doomed to be alone…even when we really aren’t. It’s about a whole raft of exquisitely subtle but powerful emotions.
And there’s another reason why I think this film is a masterpiece. A rather personal reason. The film starts 90s alt-goddess Winona Ryder as May, the “safe” choice of wife that Daniel Day-Lewis’ Archer settles for and marries. His true love, of course, is Michelle Pfeiffer’s comparatively exotic and free-spirited Countess Olenska. Now, at the time, I was a big fan of Ms. Ryder. A big, big, fan. In fact, since high school, like many a lovelorn geek, I considered her to be more or less the platonic form of the female; the absolutely perfect woman (And she’s a WHITE GIRL! Fucking crazy, I know.).
Ask anyone who knew me in college: My dorm room walls were a shrine to Winona. It was pretty sad, and probably a little creepy, but…well, what can I say, that was me in college. And my esteem of her has changed very little over time. Even in later years when she was caught shoplifting, I didn’t give a shit. She clipped the magnetic tag off my heart, stuck it in her purse and sauntered out of Saks Fifth Avenue with it a long time ago.
But never mind that. Rewind back to 1993. Now somehow, over the course of 135 minutes, The Age of Innocence was able to convince me, through the sheer magic of the movies, that being married to Winona Ryder would be an absolute living hell. Like being buried alive in excrement, thumbtacks and live cockroaches. How did Marty manage that? I still don’t know. But it’s all the evidence I needed to know that I was in the hands of a master director at the top of his game. In fact, to me, this film is Scorsese’s last outright masterpiece. He’s come close to making masterpieces in the intervening two decades (Kundun, Casino, Gangs of New York), but to me, this film remains his last unqualified, four-star, knocked-the-fuck-out-of-the-park home run. A 10/10.
Fuck you, IMDB.
Honorable Mention: Sleepless In Abbottabad (Zero Dark Thirty)
(I’m throwing this in here in case some government snoop is reading this page because my earlier al-Qaeda reference flagged me in some database or other. I am a patriotic American, who is utterly delighted that the last thing that went through Osama Bin Laden’s twisted brain before that bullet was the sight of the scariest thing the U.S. military can produce: Navy Seals sent to kill him.)
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting film is ostensibly an account of how dogged CIA operatives managed to track down the and kill the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. The story is told through the eyes of a composite character named “Maya,” a young CIA analyst who is given no backstory, no family, no outside interests, and seems to have no personal life whatsoever. But it’s not too hard to read between the lines of this intel procedural–those brave Navy Seals may have been told not to bother trying to capture Bin Laden, but it was obviously too late to prevent Bin Laden from capturing Maya’s heart. I mean, she obsesses over finding this man for something like seven years. Has any romantic heroine has ever put such relentless effort into pursuing a man?
When she finally has her moment of romantic fulfillment with Osama, as he lies supine before her, you can see Maya’s conflicted emotions, ably conveyed by Hollywood super-ginger Jessica Chastain (whom you may remember from every movie not directed by Tyler Perry from the past three or so years. And probably a couple of Tyler Perry’s movies too.). And her tears in the final, haunting scene of the film should come as no particular surprise. She has landed her man, at last.
Oh, and the character’s name, Maya, means “illusion” in some language or other. So that’s obviously significant and shit, and reinforces my thesis in various ways that I won’t bother elaborating upon because it’s so obvious. Duh.