The question of “How Do I Feminism?” is something the media has grappled with for years. Too often the answer falls into the Strong Female Character, who can punch things really good and is an absolute asshole to everyone until the male Chosen One comes along to surpass her and also melt her stunted heart. While there’s nothing wrong with physical strength, the niggling problem of it all is, of course, diversity. Too often writers (mostly Straight White Men) mistake physical strength for depth and respectful treatment, creating a stopgap that lets themselves pat themselves on the back for their progress without having to actually examine their writing (see also the “writing the exact woman I, the writer, would like to sleep with over and over again” school that your Joss Whedons and Stephen Moffats tend to fall into).
We arrive now at part two, centering on those actors whose work goes unappreciated, maybe more so for the fact that they’re surrounded by talented fellow actors. But that only makes it all the more a shame that their contributions go unsung.
In 1973, the Rocky Horror Show opened in London. In 1975 it was adapted into The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Tim Curry in arguably his most iconic performance, and the fandom that grew up around that theatrical flop came to define the cultural reference of what a cult film following looks like. You can go to just about any city in America and find a midnight showing of the film, and the show is all but guaranteed to show up at Halloween (in America and its home country of England). And FOX, after hemming and hawing about it for years, is finally looking to cash in on that sweet, sweet remake money (or “reimagining,” but hold that thought). This is the worst idea, and not in the usual “worst idea” way in that remakes tend to be poorly thought out and offer little new interpretive value beyond “we cast younger actors and got better cameras, money please.”
The deeper trouble is that Rocky Horror is in the unenviable position of having become a cultural mainstay for long enough that it is really starting to show its age. The disparity between what queer culture was when the stage show and film were produced and what it is now are whole universes apart. And that has resulted in a gap of sorts: you have the predominately straight or mainstream audience who views the film as a fun exercise in camp and potentially takes the parody on display at face value (thus perpetuating harmful stereotypes), and you have a young queer audience who’ve grown up in a world where a spectrum of positive, diverse representation from Steven Universe to Orange is the New Black exists, and they dismiss the film as harmful trash with no redeeming value whatsoever. The truth, by my estimation, is somewhere between these extremes: Rocky Horror has certainly aged poorly in some regards, and to say that those outdated portions are more harmful than helpful is a perfectly valid position; at the same time, not only has the film been a respite for thousands of outcasts since its release (and the play before it), but it continues to be subversive in some interesting ways that I rarely see addressed.
“A rap musical about America’s first Secretary of the Treasury” sounds, at first blush, like a suggestion at a bad improv night. But in fact, as you may already know, Hamilton has swept the nation, the internet, and is sure to do the same at every available awards ceremony. It’s a brilliantly constructed, emotionally resonant show with a powerful layer of meta-narrative, and it will absolutely have its analytical spotlight at some point in the future. Today though, we’re taking a look slightly to the left of it.
Dr. Herbert West’s longevity is something of a marvel. Lovecraft nerds love to turn up their noses at the Herbert West – Reanimator” stories, declaring them the weakest point in the author’s body of work. Lovecraft himself didn’t even think much of them – by which I mean he loathed them utterly, and mostly used them to bring in a paycheck from Weird Tales and take pot shots at that upstart lady writer’s new hit Frankenstein. At the same time, those six serial shorts went on to birth the single most successful Lovecraft adaptation and the most memorable, longlasting character not sleeping in R’lyeh or bound in human flesh. Dr. West’s quest to defeat death has made quite the hallmark on western culture (and beyond). And, well, I haven’t seen anyone else try to catalogue that impressive body of work yet. So let’s take a look at the Re-Animator through popular culture.
A note: while I’ve been mulling over this sort of post for some time as an outlet for my obsessive researching tendencies, it still seems only right that I tip my hat to Lindsay Ellis’ excellent Loose Canon series, which takes a similar investigative tack.
Few words are as dirty as the phrase “focus testing,” the process in which bewildered strangers representing various marketing demographics are ushered into the screening of an unreleased film and then battered with questions about their feelings. Alright, it’s a bit more involved than that, but it’s also a process well known for being used as a crutch by nervous studio executives (also known as The Man) to rein in artistic types who want to try out something that, God forbid, might fail. The fallacy of this system has been discussed in broader scope by more learned souls than I, so today let’s keep it simple. There is one case in which I remain in favor of the results of a focus group: the infamous edited ending of the 1986 film Little Shop of Horrors.
I’m not sure whether we’ve reached the saturation point of comic book media yet. I do know that we’re now fully into the realm of adaptive choices obscure enough that even I have to start doing preemptive google searches when I notice my internet feeds getting particularly excited about certain cameos. But on the other hand it only took us this long to realize that maybe Wonder Woman should get a movie after all, so maybe my preemptive cringing about all the things that might go wrong with the Deadpool movie is beside the point.
All of which is a very long preamble to saying that the recent avalanche of movies based largely on superhero comics into live action spectacle fests, fun ones or no, has left me hungering for some smaller and more experimental takes on media by way of that beautiful and versatile medium of pictures-and-words.