Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gayer Than Batman’s Rubber Nipples

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the gay themes in the original Batman movies begin and end with close-ups of nipples and codpieces in Batman & Robin.

You’d be wrong, but I’m forgiving you now.


I decided early on that every time I post a new episode of my podcast, We Are Not Young Anymore, I wouldn’t necessarily post it to this blog, but in the past week, WANYA did a back-to-back twofer of Batman movies and why they’re pretty damn gay. That wasn’t necessarily the goal that Co-host Chris and I had in mind when we decided to talk about them, but that is where the conversation veered. I suppose we should have seen this coming.

First, there’s Batman Returns, which opened in theaters on June 19, 1992 — twenty-five years ago this Monday. In this episode of WANYA, Chris and I talk about how Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters gave Batman Returns the highest snappy comeback-to-dialogue ratio of any of Batman’s cinematic outings. The Penguin works as a gay analogue (as well as a Donald Trump analogue, and yes, I’m as surprised as anyone that it could be both), and then in a WANYA first, my roommate Glen makes a cameo in which he explains how Michelle Pfeiffer’s transformation in the film works as an extended metaphor for coming out, owning your sexuality and using it to defend yourself.



Tuesday marked the twentieth anniversary of the final film in the original series, Batman & Robin. Now, this is a movie that has been talked about a lot, especially since it changed the direction of comic book movies in general but also because it was released around the dawn of internet nerd culture. People really hated Batman & Robin, and I think that dismissal is largely justified because it’s simply not a good film, though I was happy to find that I loved Uma Thurman’s performance as Poison Ivy every bit as much as I did when I was a dopey fifteen-year-old who was still figuring stuff out.

However, a lot of the criticism of Batman & Robin smacks of homophobia, particularly when it’s being discussed by straight nerds who are angry that Joel Schumacher injected homoeroticism into a universe they saw as a sort of hetero safe space. In this episode, we talk about how Schumacher did not, in fact, pull those gay (and gayish) elements out of thin air, and how Thurman was correct in choosing to play Poison Ivy like a drag queen.



If you’ve been listening to our podcast so far, thank you very much for giving us your time and tolerating our dumb voices. I feel like seven episodes in, we’re getting the hang of this whole process, and I’m excited to burn through the 1992 and 1997 summer blockbuster seasons for the next few months. If you use iTunes to listen to podcasts, you can subscribe to We Are Not Young Anymore there. And if you’re really interested in our creative output, please give us a review. It’s helpful for us, and it also give you a chance to point out the ways we might be sucking.

In closing, I suppose I should apologize for not giving the infamous Bat-nipples much discussion at all. I guess we felt like more than enough had been said about them at this point, but it occurs to me now that Schumacher’s explanation about them being inspired by anatomical studies and classical statues seems disingenuous, because shouldn’t have Batgirl have had nipples too?

Friday, June 02, 2017

David Lynch Explains David Lynch (Sorta)

David Lynch doesn’t want me to write this. He didn’t say so, exactly, and I have no personal relationship with the guy. But over the years, he’s made it clear that he does not want to explain his work — and he’d rather you and I didn’t attempt a single, encompassing explanation for it either.

“When something is abstract, the abstraction is hard to put into words, unless you’re a poet,” he told an audience during a 2007 Q&A that might mark David Lynch at his most self-explanatory. “But these [are] ideas you somehow know, and cinema is a language that can say abstractions. I love stories, but I love stories that hold abstractions. And cinema can say these difficult-to-say-in-words things.” Lynch goes on to say that he often doesn’t understand the meaning of his ideas, and he didn’t even understand the meaning of Eraserhead, perhaps his most abstract work, when he was making it. But it doesn’t matter, because he’d rather you found an “inner knowingness” — a sort of idiosyncratic translation of his own idiosyncratic system of symbols.

All that said, I think Lynch lets on more than some people might guess. Perhaps as a result of him opening up his unconscious mind and letting all that mind goop flow out uninhibited, he’s revealing more substantial, meaty bits than even he may realize. Now, I’m aware of the arrogance involved in taking an artist’s work and claiming to perceive his or her true intent, especially when you haven’t asked about it directly, so I’m simply going to leave this here with the following note: “Hey, isn’t this a neat way to look at David Lynch’s work?”

My thesis is this: In several works, David Lynch would seem to be suggesting a critique on interpretation, and in each of them he does this using the metaphor of a performance or other such viewed entertainment.

Lil the Dancing Girl

My first example of this is a brief scene from Fire Walk With Me, in which regional FBI director Gordon Dole (Lynch himself) greets Agent Desmond (Chris Isaak). Rather than explain the specifics of the case for which Desmond has flown to Oregon to investigate, Lynch introduces Lil (Kimberly Ann Cole), his “mother’s sister’s girl,” who performs a bizarre dance.



Later, Desmond and Agent Stanley (Keifer Sutherland) are driving away, and Stanley asks what was up with Lil. Without hesitation, Desmond explains away each unusual facet of Lil’s appearance and dance as meaning something important to the case.
  • Lil’s sour face = problems with local authorities
  • Lil’s blinking eyes = “trouble higher up”
  • Lil keeping one hand in her pocket = authorities hiding something
  • Lil’s other hand being clenched = authorities would be belligerent
  • Lil walking in place = legwork
  • Cole’s reference to Lil being his “mother’s sister’s girl” and placing four fingers over his face = the sheriff’s uncle is in federal prison
  • Lil’s dress being tailored = a code for drugs
  • Lil wearing a blue rose pinned to her dress = “I can’t tell you about that” (and indeed, in the new series, we are still left wondering exactly what the blue rose might signify)
Even in the world of Twin Peaks, it seems improbable that Desmond was able to interpret all these things so quickly and clearly. I suppose it’s possible that Cole might have instructed him in his own personal language of signs, but I think it’s maybe also true that Lynch is having some fun with the viewer, especially the type of viewer who watched and re-watched the original series and attempted to read meaning into every loose end, every abstract detail. In the absurd world of the show, every aspect of Lil’s dance does mean something — and, in the end, most of what Desmond deduces from the dance turns out to be correct, it should be noted. And while this moves the plot along, I also think Lynch is perhaps making a joke about the way some people might scrutinize every little detail as opposed to taking in the whole of a given work, more like you’d take in a painting, less like you’d take in a traditional narrative.

No Hay Banda

I feel like Lynch could be making a similar comment with the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive. Whereas Lil’s dance comprises only a small part of Fire Walk With Me, the Club Silencio sequence may be the most pivotal in all of Mulholland Drive. And whereas I think the Lil scene is mostly meant as a joke, I think Lynch is talking the idea a bit further and saying, “No, don’t do this. Instead, do this.”



A quick and dirty recap: Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring) attend a late-night show at jazz club where they are repeatedly made to watch performances then are reminded that the thing they think they’re seeing is not actually happening. The host (Richard Green, credited as “The Magician”) keeps introducing different instruments and then telling the audience that there is no such instrument, no actual band, no orchestra. Betty and everyone else is only hearing a recording, no matter how real it may seem. Eventually the host vanishes, and Rebekeh Del Rio (credited as herself) steps onstage to sing a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Midway through the song, she collapses, yet the song continues. It’s implied that she was only lip-syncing.

Again, I’ve always interpreted this as David Lynch’s way of telling the audience not to get hung up on the details. Just as it’s absurdist comedy for Agent Desmond to read such specific details into Lil’s dance, the Club Silencio sequence discourages you from thinking that the bare components of the performance — the one Betty is watching onstage, the movie you are watching in real life — should be taken at anything more than face value. Betty and Rita don’t follow this advice, however; they are both moved to tears by “Llorando,” and at one point Betty starts shaking violently, maybe as a result of intense emotion she’s feeling. In fact, when they arrive back home after the show, both cease to exist, and the movie enters its bizarre, plot-bending final third.

There’s a lot more to consider in this scene. Perhaps most notably is one of the film’s final images: the blue-haired woman watching from the opera box speaking the word “silencio” one last time. It’s been theorized in various analyses that this could either represent “Quiet in the theater,” because you’re about to begin the “real” performance of piecing together your own interpretation of Mulholland Drive, or “Quiet on the set,” because you’re about to begin making the “real” movie of living your life. We don’t know, even all these years later. It’s worth mentioning, I feel, that the DVD printing of Mulholland Drive includes ten clues to unlock the film’s mystery, but I’m not sure they would lead anyone to any singular, concrete understanding. I think Lynch wants us to sit with it, think about it, consider and then re-consider it. This should not be a thing that is quickly processed.

Tracey Has Two Lattes

tracey sam twin peaks glass box scene

And then we have the new Twin Peaks. Probably the most talked-about scene from the four episodes occurred in the first episode. It features two characters, Tracey Barbarato (Madeline Zima) and Sam Colby (Benjamin Rosenfield) in New York, in a strange, living room-like setup situated around a mysterious glass box.