Insecure: A Cultural Milestone

Since its debut last October, the HBO series Insecure has been a hit. Following the dating adventures, work fiascos, and overall personal struggles (and successes!) of LA-native Issa Dee, played by co-creater of the show Issa Rae, it is hilarious and dynamic, with a talented cast and a seamless music selection to support its complex plotline. However, what makes the show so hard-hitting is how authentic it is in its depiction and support of black American culture and black womanhood, in particular. Continue reading “Insecure: A Cultural Milestone”

How “It” Reinvigorates The Horror Genre

The horror genre is one that catches a lot of negativity for it’s inherently evil subject matter and it’s necessity to adhere to traditions that are often written off as clichés, but I’m here to discuss why horror movies are on the rise and how It (2017) may just reinvent the entire genre… Continue reading “How “It” Reinvigorates The Horror Genre”

Only with the Heart

The Little Prince, otherwise known as Le Petite Prince is a novella published in 1943 by the late author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The French novella is known as one of the most successful books in history, and is the origin of one of the most popular French quotes: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The book introduces heart tugging themes such as loss, love, and growing up… Continue reading “Only with the Heart”

the Mid-’90s Female Bildungsroman, Part 2 : “Party Girl”, Adornment, and the Sublimation of Femme Intelligence

“Party Girl” (1995), Parker Posey’s feature debut, has the dubious honor of being the first commercial comedy-drama film to be broadcast in its entirety over the internet. Over twenty years later, deep in the internet age, it still provides plenty of #inspo fodder for blogging aesthetes and fashion magazines due to the remarkable work of its costume designer Michael Clancy. Indeed, Clancy’s genius (in conjunction with Posey’s performance, the ‘90s house soundtrack, and the high school existentialism)
is what draws me back to this movie every few months: his intentional design work creates readable surfaces throughout the film–the clothes become a text, in a (tactile?) sense.

 Posey’s character Mary is epitomized in reviews as a wayward girl whose only preoccupations are amassing a couture wardrobe and attending “it” functions. That is, until she’s arrested for hosting an illegal rent party and must pick up a clerk job at the library to cover bail. She’s a reluctant worker, but finds over time–through acknowledging the potential Sisyphean value of the drudgery–that she may have an innate skill for library work. She also strikes up a romance with the falafel vendor on the corner, all the while turning look after look, in the stacks or at the club. Continue reading “the Mid-’90s Female Bildungsroman, Part 2 : “Party Girl”, Adornment, and the Sublimation of Femme Intelligence”

Can “Terminator” be Great Again?

The Terminator

Over the past 32 years, the world has received five different Terminator films, vastly ranging in quality. The first film, known simply as The Terminator was released in 1984, written and directed by the legendary James Cameron and is hailed today as one of the greatest science fiction films anybody has every seen. It had thrills, romance, action, story, and actually make the audience think rather than serving all plot points to them on a platter. The Terminator was a genius piece of cinema and stands as one of the greatest films, period. Terminator_2_posterSeven years later, the second film came out. Titled Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this project marked the return for writer/director James Cameron in one of the best received and successful sequels of all time. As the highest grossing movie of 1991 (and my favorite movie of all time), T2 followed in the spiritual footsteps of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back in showing how to be a great sequel: deepen the characters, expand the story, and improve on all aspects of the original and NOT just rehash what made the original good (ahem, all horror sequels ever). Terminator 2 isn’t just a run-and-gun, loud-and-dumb, smoking-barrel and empty-shell of a movie at all; it’s smart, romantic, heartfelt, profound, and inspiring in just about every way. That’s how you make a good sequel, or a good movie in general.Terminator_3_posterIn 2003, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines happened- I mean, was “released.” Honestly, T3 is one of my least favorite movies of all time right next to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Alien: Resurrection and is the textbook example of how NOT to make a great sequel. Lead by an annoying cast, penned by lazy writers, and directed with such bland taste, Terminator 3 would be a pointless movie even if it was a good one- which it was far from. All timeline contradictions with the other films aside, this movie can’t even stand on it’s own as a smart movie because of it’s own plot holes. This film tried to up the ante of villainy by combining the two villains from the first two movies into one, so instead of a terminator with just a metal endoskeleton OR an entirely shape-shifting body, this one had shape shifting metal over a metal endoskeleton…which was actually an embarrassing downgrade all-in-all, topped off with a supermodel body, for the appeal, I guess. Terminator 3 is a mess of a film, but somehow, the franchise kept moving.

MV5BODE1MTM1MzA2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ5MTA2Mg@@._V1_SX640_SY720_In 2009, the franchise made yet another unnecessary return with Terminator: Salvation, which isn’t a “bad” movie- but it doesn’t feel like a Terminator movie at any point in the film which makes it bad for the franchise. And the plot-twist in the middle of the movie really just didn’t make sense as far as the plot of the saga goes; nothing in the movie adds anything to the series. This one can be skipped.

terminator-genesis-poster-arnold

And then, the return of the series to its roots: Terminator Genisys. For some background information: in order to make The Terminator back in the ‘84, James Cameron had to sell the rights to the movie and all of it’s characters for just $1 to a producer who allowed Cameron to make his pet project. After T2, the rights to the franchise bounced from studio to studio, which explains the varying cast, tone and plot holes that the third and fourth films had. However, Paramount Pictures bought the rights to the franchise and decided to make a trilogy, before the rights return back to James Cameron in 2019. James Cameron has devoted himself to his Avatar series, but the amount of time he needs to allow for the special effects he requires to advance is enough to make another Terminator film if he desired after getting the rights back. So, back to Terminator Genisys; this film was the beginning of Paramount’s new Terminator trilogy- which they decided to make in a hurry before losing the rights to the franchise. Paramount’s film completely ignored Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and Terminator Salvation, which made fans (including myself) extremely happy; the fact that this film would respect the roots of the franchise. Before release, James Cameron got to see the movie and told the press that fans would “love this movie!” I thought the film highly respected the originals and was a very fun movie in itself, but critics and audiences didn’t love it, and the film didn’t make as much money as was projected, so the other two films in the trilogy were cancelled. Now, the Terminator franchise has no fate.
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How can the franchise be made to be great again? Well, by learning from the mistakes of the most recent 3 films. A few things that Genisys did well was the villain which- like the second film- was “bigger, badder, and better” than the first. This film paid astounding homage to the original and even expanded the story in surprising ways- which the third and fourth films failed to do. However, the film lacked conviction and was all-around forgettable, mostly because of the confused tone… and the fact that now it’s a cliffhanger without any resolution. So, the best thing a studio could do to make the franchise great again is to hire people who care about the project, even if the last three films in the series have not been loved by audiences- and all three of them aren’t official Terminator films anymore. A studio doesn’t need to pick up where the second movie left off in order to continue the franchise, but the biggest thing to make sure of is that the crew behind it is trustworthy and passionate. Like Predator or Alien, the franchise could be returned to after a few bad movies and still be great (I’m referencing the upcoming The Predator movie written and directed by Shane Black who was in the original, and Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, both directed by Ridley Scott who directed the first). I just hope James Cameron is the next person who says “I’ll be back.”

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However, that is unlikely since he is filming Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4 back to back… to back. So, my dream Terminator 3 would actually be directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity) since he can make great, original films like Children of Men, but also direct great sequels which respect the source material as he did with Azkaban (a movie also involving time travel like Terminator). The best reason I have for Cuaron is Gravity, which swept the technical awards at the 2014 Academy Awards, was nominated for Best Picture, and impressed James Cameron who raved about how much he loved the film. Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) or Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow) would also be good choices. I would pick Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Sunshine) and Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: Episode VIII) for the screenwriters since they have penned some genius and entirely original scripts which have amazed audiences and critics alike. As far as the story goes, I think it’s been too long since T2 to try to continue that plot with those characters, but rebooting and recasting would be absolute sins, so a new team of characters should be introduced for a soft sequel but with a heart of it’s own like Mad Max: Fury Road or Creed last year. As far as the rest goes, I think I’ll leave that to the professionals! Come to IU Media Services in Wells Library to check out The Terminator, Terminator 2, and Terminator Genisys (or many of the other films I’ve mentioned) to see what you think can be done to save the iconic series!

 

Thank you for reading!

-Blake Schwarz

Two or Three thoughts on “Gay Film”

1.

The English language abducted the word “queer” from the Germans around the time English became an entity of large scale language abduction in the 16th century. It was a word that meant some Derridian amalgamation of strange, odd, peculiar, and eccentric as well as referring to something suspicious or “not quite right” and a person with a “mild derangement” exhibiting “socially inappropriate behavior.”

As a verb it meant to spoil or ruin. Continue reading “Two or Three thoughts on “Gay Film””

The Mid-’90s Female Bildungsroman, Part 1: “Muriel’s Wedding” and the Poles of Female Embodiment

When I first saw the film “Matilda” with my family in 1998, my brothers insisted that I looked just like her. Though they meant it as a gendered taunt, I was all too happy to accept it–”maybe,” I thought, “that means I have powers, too.” Matilda became for me my first model of feminine power: as a young queer boy unsure of my place in the sexual social order, I considered her telekinesis to be a gift bestowed upon her, a manifestation of her hyper-intelligence coupled with a blatant disregard for the (gendered) status quo. Since then, I’ve continued to find myself in women’s stories.

Like most other queers I know, I have a soft spot for media that utilizes grand aesthetic, artifice and exaggeration: give me a strong look and a flashy dance number and I’m in. To me, it’s a refusal to play by patriarchy’s cultural game–what good are limiting notions of realism and reason when they’re aggressively masculine and heteronormative? When asked to list some of my favorite movies (whether it be for a class icebreaker or a dating site), I can quickly rattle them off : “Muriel’s Wedding,” “Party Girl,” “Clueless,” “The Craft,” “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion.” All comedy-dramas, all female protagonists, all brimming with women exhibiting themselves boldly. As with “Matilda,” I watch and see these characters dressing/expressing themselves in ways I wish I had the nerve to (silk blouse, faux leopard jacket and red hotpants? Sign. me. up.).

Continue reading “The Mid-’90s Female Bildungsroman, Part 1: “Muriel’s Wedding” and the Poles of Female Embodiment”

Aqua Something Blog Post Whatever


WARNING: ADULT SWIM MAY CONTAIN MATERIAL THAT PARENTS MIGHT NOT FIND SUITABLE FOR VIEWERS UNDER THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN.

I will not use this blog as a way to prove I have psychic powers. In fact, I don’t believe that such a thing is really possible of myself or any person I’ve met to date. This is chiefly because I imagine if people could read my mind they’d risk all the alarmed exits as a means of escape. No, I am not psychic. But I bet you’re wondering why anyone would waste time writing a blog post about Adult Swim cartoons. Continue reading “Aqua Something Blog Post Whatever”

Celebrating LGBT History Month

photograph of lgbt history month display in the lobby of the herman b wells library, indiana university
LGBT History Month Display @ IU Libraries

[Over the next few weeks, in celebration of LGBT History Month, I will be highlighting films that attempt, in at least some small part, to do justice to the varieties and diversity of queer experience]

History, and its representation, is a fraught and frustrating undertaking for most who seek to engage with it, and this has never been truer than it is today in our current media environment. As previously (and continuously, we must acknowledge) marginalized subjects and communities take back their agency and make their voices heard, and as librarians, archivists, and scholars make further investments toward ensuring resources are widely (and often freely) available, attempts to tell stories based on individual interpretations or even commonly-accepted versions of history are subject to a much greater degree of informed scrutiny and critique. It’s easy to see, then, how one might view the sometimes predictable (as if the reliability of an argument somehow undermines its legitimacy or importance) cycle of criticism and backlash which many (a)historical films face throughout production and release as ultimately an obstacle to artistic integrity or the oft-abused notion of “freedom of speech.” Nevertheless, somehow, movies keep getting made.

Despite what we might think about the individual merits of any film, art, in my opinion, always speaks not only for the intentions of the artist, but to the contexts and systems that have made its existence possible. Whether we should be looking to history and always coming up with heroes is a question outside the scope of this piece, but what’s absolutely clear is that, especially for those of us who have only very rarely (or very recently) had complex, let alone positive, queer characters to engage with, the very necessary world-building work that representation provides is essential, even if it isn’t all that we need. We need to see that we can and should exist, even piecemeal and even if it’s just a matter of providing some of the vocabulary we need to continue evolving (and thriving) as individuals and within communities. When our cultural products, especially those masquerading as “history,” continue to proffer white-washed, heterocentric, and sexist (and/or cisnormative) visions of the world we live in, it’s easy to assume we didn’t exist or, if we did, that we didn’t matter.

This brings me to Stonewall, the recent Roland Emmerich film that has recently crashed and burned in theaters. Writers from around the internet have lambasted the film for centering the white, cis-male perspective of its protagonist while glossing over the contributions of queer folks of color and other genderqueer individuals. Though we will likely never know, with any real certainty, who threw the first brick, what we can talk about is what these conversations mean about and for us. As Susan Stryker put it, eloquently distilling the structural nature of these conflicts:

“Arguing about whether drag queens, transwomen, butches, or gender-nonconforming street kids were present at Stonewall, or whether they (and they alone) were responsible for escalating the resistance to police violence, serves mostly as an arena in which some non-transgender gays and lesbians can express antipathy towards trans people and reject political alliance with them as part of an imagined LGBT community. Likewise, trans people, particularly trans people of color, engage in the same debates about history to express justifiable outrage over continued marginalization of, and prejudice toward, trans people by many homonormative cisgender gays and lesbians. Fighting over Stonewall history is a proxy battle for more entrenched structural conflicts.”

Erasure, in other words, has continued resonance, especially for people and communities who continue to be erased. Whether or not you choose to see Stonewall (and I would never suggest you just take my word for it), one of the best ways to celebrate and acknowledge queer people is to engage with our turbulent, beautiful histories. Here are a few films that attempt to do justice to us.

cover art for Paris is Burning film
Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris is Burning

A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.

 

 

 

 

 

Tongues Untied (1989)

Tongues Untied

Marlon Riggs, with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill reciting his poetry, Riggs telling the story of his growing up, scenes of men in social intercourse and dance, and various comic riffs, including a visit to the “Institute of Snap!thology,” where men take lessons in how to snap their fingers: the sling snap, the point snap, the diva snap. The film closes with obituaries for victims of AIDS and archival footage of the civil rights movement placed next to footage of Black men marching in a gay pride parade.

 

 

The Celluloid Closet (1995)

The Celluloid Closet

A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.

 

 

 

 

 

cover for film How to Survive a Plague
How to Survive a Plague (2012)

How to Survive a Plague

The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

 

 

 

 

 

And, offered freely online thanks to the excellent, queer-centric curation of Frameline VoicesPay it No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson:

Stay tuned for my review of Tangerinewhich I was worried wouldn’t ever make it to Indiana! In the interim, I highly suggest the shorts program being screened this Friday at the IU Cinema: Queer Mythologies // Queer Histories.

The Necessary Film and What it Means

When I was 19, I had very strong feelings about the 1997 Harmony Korine film Gummo. The film presents a fictionalized Ohio town, ravaged by tornado, drugs, poverty, and other cruelties, in a loose barrage of vignettes, some characters recurring and some appearing in raw visceral glimpses like sideshow performers seen through a tear in the tent. And a sideshow of depravity it is–twin skinheads beating each other up over shoes, barely pubescent boys killing neighborhood cats for money and huffing glue, toddlers in cowboy suits screaming obscenities in a junkyard, a murdered grandmother in an iron lung and her tremulously effeminate, be-mulleted grandson, a toe-less albino with a Patrick Swayze obsession–alternately shot on Hi-8 video, dizzying 8mm and 16mm amateur handhelds, and on 35mm with hypnotic fever dream virtuosity by French cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier.

I had a poster the size of a pool table on my dorm room wall, and I could (and still can) quote it front to back.

It was also what I’ll call my Necessary Film: if someone wanted to date me, they had to watch Gummo and like it. To like me they had to like the dead cats, the gap-toothed rabbit boy with the accordion, the grinding death metal and warbling Roy Orbison soundtrack: all of it

Continue reading “The Necessary Film and What it Means”