July 2007 Archives

From the Fringeworlds

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Bald Heather flashes a smileI was impressed by Annihilation Conquest: Prologue, the first issue in Marvel Comics's world-spanning science fiction series. Although the writers seems to have borrowed some ideas from Star Trek's Borg, they at least picked a good source to take from. The first issue was meaty and engrossing; my only hesitation with this series is that it's yet another crossover epic that will require me to read many different titles--in this case, five--to get the whole story: Wraith, Nova, Quasar, Star-Lord and Annihilation Conquest.

I'm definitely going to pick up Quasar, the title named after one-half of the lesbian hero couple featured in Annihilation Conquest: Prologue. Quasar is clearly meant to be the focus of the two, since she's going to have her own title, but I really like her bald girlfriend, Heather, shown here. Actually, she likes to be called Moondragon, rather than Heather, which I think is very lesbian of her. I guess she's meant to be a crunchy-granola type lesbian. That makes sense, in a way, because she has powerful psychic abilities, as well as a mean high kick.

That Old Line

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Holly relaxes in the JacuzziSo I've been patiently reading DC's Countdown series, mostly because I read all of 52. It's like sitting down with a box of donuts and, after eating half a dozen of the pastries, thinking, "I guess I should finish them off."

I was in the middle of digesting Countdown #44 when I unexpectedly came across a storyline devoted to Holly Robinson, the current Catwoman. It begins with a lesbian pick-up scene. Now, if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may recall that I attended the Dinah Shore Weekend this year. At that time I was able to catch up on the very latest, most in pick-up line being used in lesbian bars. I wish I could recall what the line was exactly, but I remember thinking it was much more direct than what we said back in my day.

This is relevant because of the unique pick-up line used on Holly Robinson in Countdown #44. Let me set the scene: Holly is standing on the street in Metropolis, when a beautiful older woman wearing a toga approaches her, a pet owl perched on her arm. Holly takes this costume in stride, understanding implicitly that many of her fellow lesbians dress eccentrically and are overly fond of animals. "You look as if you might need a place to stay," the older woman observes, then drops her killer pick-up line: "I run a women's shelter."

I know DC is trying to get with the program in terms of gay and lesbian issues, but really--no self-respecting lesbian has used that old line since the mid-70s. But maybe it's another case of everything old is new again, kind of like the return of 70s fashion with its dark brown and light blue color combinations. At any rate, Holly isn't being picky and heads off to "the women's shelter" with her new special friend.

As you can see from the illustration above, this particular women's shelter features a Jacuzzi bath and many scantily-clad women lounging about. It actually looks a bit like the Burke Williams Spa in Santa Monica before they remodeled it in a faux rustic California Mission style. I don't think this Sapphic baths scene is going to play out well for Holly Robinson, but I'm definitely curious about what's going to happen next at this particular women's shelter.

While perusing the Horror Blog, I came across a link labeled Dueling Bathorys. I only know of one Bathory--Erzebet Bathory--and the thought of two of her definitely raised the hair on the back of my neck. Following the link revealed that there are two competing movies about Bathory in the works: The Countess and Bathory.

Until I started preparing to write this post, I wasn't aware that many of the details surrounding Bathory's life are in dispute. The established facts seem to be that she was born noble, was implicated in the deaths of numerous women, and was tried for their deaths. Bathory is still considered to be the most notorious serial killer ever to have come out of Hungary.

The parts of the story that are in question appear to involve the motive and method behind the murders. One common story concerning Bathory is that she murdered because she was worried about losing her looks and believed that by bathing in the blood of virgin women she could regain her youthful appearance. Another holds that Bathory was a sadist and employed intricate tortures in taking life.

Some historians believe these stories are legends that grew out of prejudice against women. The story about Bathory killing out of vanity, for instance, may have grown out of people's discomfort with the idea of a female murderer. Killing was not considered to be part of a woman's inherent nature, but, the rationale goes, a woman's vanity might override her natural instincts and drive her to murder.

Robert Peters made up as the CountessI was first exposed to the legend of Erzebet Bathory through a dramatic production of the Blood Countess, an adaptation of poet Robert Peters's long poem of the same name. Robert Peters devoted much of his writing career to investigating dark subject matter, including serial murder, death and madness. A number of his works, including his long poem about Mad Ludwig of Bavaria, are available online for free.

Peters performed the lead role in the play of the Blood Countess himself, in drag. The photo here shows him in full makeup as Erzebet. Although there was some comic edge underlying his performance, Peters played the role of a woman with great seriousness, carefully modulating his voice to a female register as he spoke.

Peters gave life to the more extreme legends around Bathory, depicting her as a sadistic, wanton murderer. Yet he also infused her with some of the seductive appeal that movie audiences responded to in the character of Hannibal Lecter. For example, the play begins with Bathory calling out with girlish exuberance, "Give the chained women extra rations of milk and cheese!" Bathory's infectious happiness and pleasure in her own generosity is contrasted with the reminder that somewhere, offstage, a slew of young women are chained up, awaiting death.

Even though all the horrors in the Blood Countess took place offstage, when I saw it performed, their description was enough to drive one audience member out of her seat and straight out the back door. It's fascinating the way our minds can imagine so much more, and so much worse, than our eyes can see. I imagine that when the two Bathory movies come out, very little will be left to the imagination. There will be a bloodbath, in more ways than one. But with so much mystery surrounding this woman's story, there's at least the potential for much more.

Dine After the Movie

Food critic Anton Ego I feel sorry for the children who go see the new animated film Ratatouille, for they will not have the pleasure of doing as I did immediately after watching this film--uncorking a bottle of red wine and drinking it with a good meal. As the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend said to me right after the movie, "Who knew an animated film about a rat could make you want to drink so much wine?" But that is the exact effect the movie has, so my advice to you is: see it first, then go eat.

Ratatouille uses the familiar fish-out-of-water formula for its plot, but the example is so extreme--a rat who wants to be a chef--that it avoids seeming overly cute. The rat lead character is mostly Disney adorable, but not completely so. At times, the realism behind the action animation overshadowed the rat's characterization, and all I could see was the image of a lifelike rat scrambling inside a working kitchen. Those moments made my stomach lurch, but they also made the rat's story more poignant, because I had to overcome some of my own repulsion in order to root for him.

Paris serves as the main setting for Ratatouille. Having seen Sicko last week, with its enthusiastic depiction of French life, I wondered if there wasn't some sort of mini-backlash at work here--a swipe at the anti-French sentiment of the Bush administration. My favorite moment in the film was a cartoony nod to Proust's madeleine involving the movie's antagonist, the food critic Anton Ego, shown here. I don't know if a swipe at Republicans was intended, but the many swipes at critics were too heavy-handed to miss.

I enjoyed the film enough that I sat through the credits all the way to the very end, where I saw a peculiar message about the type of animation ("No motion capture") used to make the film. I looked for information on the web and found an interesting write-up and discussion about it on the the Onion's A.V. Club Blog. If you're interested in animation technique, it's well worth reading.

Amazons attack Miss Gulch

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Phillipus and Artemis share a lookI've now read Amazons Attack! issues #2 and #3 and I think I've found the golden nugget in this series. It's Phillipus and Artemis, Hippolyta's top generals and leaders of the Amazon attack on the U.S. These two clearly need their own series. I'd certainly buy it. I've already been led into buying a half dozen tie-in titles just to follow this attack story, so why not one more?

The Amazons Attack! series continues to confuse me with its witting and unwitting camp references. At the end of issue #2, when it was announced that all of Kansas was on fire (because of the attack!), it took me a full minute to remember that Kansas was Clark Kent's boyhood home, even with a helpful illustration showing Superman flying over fields of corn. My first thought was, "It's not just those dykey Amazons attacking, they've got all the friends of Dorothy in Oz riled up, too. They're striking back at Miss Gulch!"

The U.S. Needs Universal Healthcare

Sicko movie posterI went to see Sicko,Michael Moore's documentary film about the health care industry in the U.S., this past Friday with the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend. Go see it: the movie is every bit as good as the critics say it is. It's opening tonight in 100 more movie theaters, and Friday in another 200, so if it wasn't showing near you last weekend it may be by this weekend.

I was very impressed with the way Moore built his argument in Sicko. The movie encompassed so many varied emotions and ideas. The film's even structure and the depth of meaning Moore was able to bring to the subject brought to my mind the satisfaction one feels reading a beautiful, well-written essay. Of course, it was funny, too, but amusement is not the main feeling one takes away from this film.

I had trouble figuring out what I wanted to say here about healthcare. I have an extraordinary number of hair-raising personal healthcare stories I could tell you. I thought about sharing tips on how I've reduced my own out-of-pocket healthcare costs in the last year. I considered sharing various alarming facts about the number of uninsured in Los Angeles, where I live.

In the end, these anecdotes, instructions and statistics all seemed too small to pair with a movie as ambitious as Sicko. The problems with the U.S. healthcare system are enormous, but Moore's film isn't content to just look at what's wrong with our healthcare system. Sicko addresses what it feels like to live in a country that is relentlessly driven by the desire for profit.

Over the course of the Bush administration, I have noticed a change in many of the ordinary business relationships I have with companies I do business with, whether it's the bank, the grocer, an insurance company or even an employer. These are no longer relationships between customers and service providers, defined by a measure of good will and a presumed desire for mutual benefit.

There is a new rapaciousness that has turned each business transaction into an opportunity for profit on the one hand, loss on the other. The new terms and charges that go along with this trend include re-stocking fees, trick credit card fees, restrictive EULAs, and most recently, Supreme Court approved price-fixing. The healthcare equivalents include disputing of routine claims, lagging insurance payments and rising co-pays.

We need to insist on broad changes in our culture, and not settle for whatever healthcare reform or business reform gets pushed forward by the very industries that need changing. If Sicko is a success, inevitably the healthcare and pharmaceuticals industries will be first out of the gate with their prosposals for how to make things "better." That's when we will all need to keep our eye on the prize--and that prize is universal healthcare.

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