Mother Knows Best

From the very opening of Grace, I had a feeling that it might be a slightly different kind of film. With its very delicate and feminine visuals and sounds, it opens as a film that is very much in accordance to what ends up being the subject matter: maternalism and child-rearing.  However, as it is indeed a horror movie, the light and airy features of these opening shots and the camera drifting languidly over Jordan Ladd’s recumbent naked form seem remarkably eerie when the promos so very clearly advertise death and something “unnatural.”

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So the opening, with its almost Downy-commercial-type cleanliness, seems to be underscoring not only the most physically sensual elements of the female but the very natural elements of the female body in general, as the first action we see in the film is the sex act (and what could be more natural than that?).

Throughout the film, what is “natural” seems to be a running theme, which I found to be quite interesting. At first, since there were so many discussions about health food, midwifery and non-traditional health methodologies in general, I initially took the film to be making a critique of all these kinds of hyper-liberal vegetarian/vegan sensibilities. However, I then realized Grace had much deeper-seated and smarter thematics then that. See, ANYONE can take a horror film and chuck in a few “Oh, check out the seitan-eating, soy-milk drinkin’, edamame chompin’ folks!” jokes. That’s simple. Put a few of those in, then have them be the first to suffer and/or die, and *presto*!!  Instant laughs from the horror community!  Hell, I’d probably laugh…if they were funny! But it takes a pretty special film to take these issues and involve them into a deeper seated narrative that discusses mother issues and what is natural to being a mother. It also was pretty impressive to me, as a female, that there was a male director who was able to hit on as many issues as he did in this film without it feeling in any way, shape or form invasive, exploitative or disgusting.

This was a horror movie. No doubt about it. But it was very sophisticated and brought a great many women’s issues to the forefront, whether intentionally or not. To a woman like me, who digs on women’s issues? I found that pretty exciting.

So let’s get my problems with the film out of the way first: the lesbian shit. There was one character who had a jealousy issue and…the actress wasn’t my fave and the lesbian jealousy weirdness angle is…a bit played out in my opinion. HOWEVER, it was done with a bit more class than normal, and I’m not sure if I could see another route to take if they were gonna have that involved, and it sorta was part of the story, so…I guess it was alright. I really do wish that there could have been a different way that the narrative could have gone without using the age-old (and somewhat tired) old college-relationship between 2 women that comes back as a central figure within the film, but…hey- it didn’t distract me SO much that I didn’t like the movie. It was the ONLY thing that I had ANY problem with and to say that? That’s pretty awesome. It means that this is a pretty damn good film.

On to the good stuff: EVERYTHING ELSE. This movie has tension coming out of every pore of celluloid. When we stayed for the Q&A, the composer discussed some of the aural reasonings why and I thought that those reasons ALONE were incredible. Turns out that Austin Wintory recorded actual baby cries and then mixed them into the music that he composed for the film. The reasoning for this, he said, beyond the actual sound which increased tension in and of itself, is that the pitch of a baby’s cry is the one sound that every human can hear (well, unless you’re deaf, I suppose), no matter what. Scientifically, he reported, the sound is at such a level that your body will respond to that sound in a way that it does not respond to anything else in the world. Indeed, I would say, this does seem to make sense, as somehow we can ALWAYS seem to hear babies crying whether we want to or not. Wintory used the example of being on an airplane and being able to hear a child in the very back of the plane and yet having it sound like the infant was right in your face. Ever been there? Thought so. At any rate, I am a huge sucker for music in film, and THIS FILM had it, and I will say that Wintory’s intermingling of baby sounds with the rest of his lullaby-esque tunes as well as the other scoring was incredible. A good score/good music can make or break a horror movie for me. Would Halloween have been the same without that tune? Psycho? Exactly. So…well done, Mr. Wintory, good addition!

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Margaret White *seriously* loved HER daughter!

On to the story now…Within the horror film genre, we have seen some pretty interesting mother figures,  have we not?

Norman tried to please you, Mrs. Bates, he really did!

Norman tried to please you, Mrs. Bates, he really did!

 

Dude, Mrs. Voorhees, we get it. We would've been pissed if Jason was our kid, too.

Dude, Mrs. Voorhees, we get it. We would've been pissed if Jason was our kid, too.

The mothers represented within Grace bring forth a whole new kind of mothering to the horror world that I feel has begun within the last few years, and I last saw represented within the astonishingly fantastic French film, Inside. It seems to me that there has always been a certain amount of fascination with the mother figure within the world of horror. Clearly, as shown above, that figure has not always been the figure of protection in, um, the most positive manner, shall we say? Now within films like Grace and Inside I feel like we may have turned a corner. I’m wondering, since men made BOTH of these films, if there hasn’t been a certain change within the way that these directors have come to synthesize the maternal representatives within the slasher genres at large, as well as other horror cinema venues. It seems that, with these films, we are starting to witness a kind of sea change that, frankly, is ALL TOO WELCOME.

Fuckin’ A, do I love a good horror movie. Slashing, hacking, blood, guts. You name it? I love it. I ADORE GORE. But I’m not one of those people who loves without discrimination. I *am* particular. But what I love, I do love very much. And I am extremely fascinated by this new turn in the world of horror. It seems that for years and years we have had a certain set of (for lack of a better term) Horror “Family” Values, many of which have been covered by academics such as Carol J. Clover, Barbara Creed, Harry Benshoff, just to name a precious few (as there are *so* many goodies!). These Horror Family Values have very stringent ideologies in regards to sexuality and motherhood. Essentially, in a horror movie, if you fuck, you’ll die and if you’re a mom, you’re a crazy homicidal bitch with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, emphasis  on the crazy, if-you-please. While I think we’re still all waiting for a film where kids can safely orgasm and survive past the post-coital beer (if they even get that far before a knife/axe/murdering-object-of-choice rips through their young nubile flesh), the Mother Issue seems to be making a change.

I hate spoilers, EVEN in reviews, so I’m not going to give anything away. But I will go so far as to say that starting in the film Inside and now continuing on with the film Grace, I’m seeing an evolution in the depiction of motherhood in horror which I quite like. While I could attempt to use some of my Freudian feminist film scholarship stuffs on this, I’m not sure I want to at this juncture. My feelings about this transition probably need more fodder in order for that kind of highly formulated (and quite possibly extensively boring to many) discussion on Sigmund and where he’s at today. I’d probably use the ol’ Virginia Slims adage, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”  I think that the concept that we are no longer treating the mother figure with anger and exposing her to the kind of harsh negativity within the horror film that we have been doing for YEARS is a big step.

It could definitely be argued that both of the mothers seen in Grace have elements of Teh Crazy in them, and Have Issues. However, on the whole, I feel that their portrayals actually have a kind of yin/yang sensibility to them, and do more for exploring female mother issues and issues of loss and attachment. And to say that there are characters in a horror movie that are explored with class and sensitivity is a pretty bold statement, but it must be said. This is a very mature film, and comes with high recommendations from me.

So, here’s to ya, boys. Its fascinating to see that it took a few young men to promote women and motherhood within the horror world. I like it. I like it a lot. I hope to see more people do it. It has actually brought the calibre of the horror film UP, significantly, which, in my eyes is DREADFULLY needed sometimes! End points? If you haven’t seen Inside, holy shit- SEE IT!!! And if you haven’t seen Grace? WELL, what’re you waiting for?

See ya in the front row!

Killer (Prom) Queen

So, pun intended, I suppose, let’s get something straight: I fully support gay rights, k?

But I am also a critical thinker and so when I see or read something that catches my eye and makes me think “Hrm, I dunno…” I gotta say something. Especially when no one else really seems to be doing so. In the Proposition 8 melee, we cannot afford to lose our critical thinking skills simply upon hearing about something that seems celebratory within the gay world, correct? If we do, then we become sheep and vegetables with opposable thumbs, clapping and saying “Hurray!” at anything that seems like it might be progress. Because, see, what if it really isn’t progress? And even morese, what if it isn’t progress in the way that we would like it to be? Kinda like a ballot measure that hides its true intentions underneath a whole lot of political mumbo jumbo and gobbledy-gook that the average person cannot understand, some things really need to be looked at under a much higher lensed microscope.

That said, I’m not saying that this issue is evil or like one of those measure. FAR from it. It is a very simple everyday type thing. However, the way I see it, it should be at least gazed at a bit closer due to the simple fact that it IS such a simple local “nothing” issue.

So I opened up my Facebook today, and I noticed that a few of my friends were posting this article about Sergio Garcia, a Senior at Fairfax High School. Apparently, this young man was just crowned “Prom Queen.” Um, OK, no big. Kinda cool, right? I went there, I know what that school was like when I was there, so I was excited in a way to have this occur. So I posted it. But….I took it down within 2-3 minutes.

Houston, we have a problem.

Should’ve been fine. Should’ve been great. Should’ve been able to just add this to the list of the pro-gay equality stuff that I post on the ol’ social networking stuff. Except…I couldn’t. Whether it was due to the writers or due to his own speech decisions, what was within the article made it impossible for me to get behind this issue. As a woman and as a woman who has been a significant gay-rights advocate for her whole life. See, the byline underneath his picture in the LA Times quotes him as saying, that he “felt invincible after beating out the female candidates.” OUCH. Then, to add to that, within the article he states that he doesn’t want to be a girl, reiterates that he will not be wearing a dress, and that the whole thing began as a “stunt or a challenge.”

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Perhaps if they had not postured the entire thing as Sergio having “beaten out” the female candidates. And perhaps he was misquoted. But I bristled a bit. I really did. I asked myself, “Would a woman have been able to run for prom king?” And………..I got a resounding NO WAY, JOSE. So, I ask you, is this progress? I suppose it is in a way, but most of us recognize that the younger generation really could care *less* about sexuality. It’s even stated in the article.

See, there’s also this historical dilemma about women and the gay community, too. When the AIDS crisis was at its height, an incredible amount of women’s health groups and lesbian groups supported this issue, marched and helped out, even though it wasn’t even “their issue” at the time. In countless documentaries that I have seen, and people I have spoken with, these same women have expressed a sad sentiment that they do not feel or have that same support from the male gay community. (*disclaimer: this is not meant to be a statement about all gay men, btw*) As a woman who can (and has) go to (male) gay leather bars and usually exchange phone numbers sometimes more often than in a straight bar, I very clearly have a wonderful relationship with the male gay world. However, there is a certain misogyny that exists. There is a prejudice against men that exists within certain areas of the lesbian community, as well, I have seen that too, but…in a world that already predicates itself in a manner that does not necessarily favor those of the XY-chromosome persuasion…..well? It can be tough.

At any rate, back to prom, right? Look, I’m excited for this kid. He made headway in something that made him feel proud and happy, he feels like he did good for his gay community and made strides or whatnot, and I do support him in his struggles. He’s a latino kid in LA who is openly gay and proud, which is problematic in and of itself. I mean, his homelife can’t necessarily have been a picnic, right? Add gay archetypes to the mix and, well, we have something else entirely. In this way, I believe that Sergio is taking it to the next level. Applying an aspect of gay culture to high school culture, in a way, enmeshing the two into one. However, I do not believe that this is a necessity nor do I believe that it is a positive or a progressive stance to take, for women or for men. In fact, I feel it is quite self-centered and selfish. However, as we all know, high school kids are some of the most self-centered people in the universe so this is no big surprise. But it is by no means a malicious act, and I do want to be clear about that as well.

The issue comes from not thinking ahead and not listening to his peers and not thinking about what the effects of this act could be. Sure, it’s cute enough, have a prom “queen.” But the LA Times positioned it poorly- they (whether he intended it or not) made it sound like he was quite pleased to have won over the girls, which sounded pretty nasty to me, although not to the immediate reader, still reeling from Prop 8’s fucked up repeat beatdown the other day. Most everyone these days is looking for something-anything-positive to hear/post/know about how people are reacting to the gay world. But the problem is, this isn’t the thing. And we really need to take a closer look at what would have made a real difference.

Wouldn’t it have been more effective to have him be the prom king and come with his male date? Wouldn’t that be more of a fuck you in the face of the masculine-defined idea of “prom king” a la films like Carrie? He states that he does not want to be a girl and that he’s a boy with a “different personality.” So how does “different personality” all of a sudden equal prom queen? He’s not a tranny, nor does he express the desire to be one, he seems to be quite secure in being a gay male of the most average variety. What was wrong with running for prom king?

I’m just not sure how to place this one. And to an extent, writing this makes me feel like I’m a hater, which I know, full well, that I am not. I know that this is a messy and tricky situation that puts women in a precarious situation where they get to play second fiddle. And while I do love my gay boys something fierce, I think I’d be pretty pissed if a guy won for prom queen and I was running and had a chance to win. ESPECIALLY if they were initially just doing it for a lark, and then the idea got unintentional momentum.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that this situation is quite a bit more complicated than just posting the article on Facebook. I couldn’t do it. It is not 100% celebratory for me. I support, but I question. It may simply be prom, but hey- prom means a great deal to a lot of folks. Look at Carrie. That’s a perfect example of how that event can be so momentous in one person’s life. Also good example of why you should treat people better in high school, but that’s a WHOLE different blog.

While I congratulate you Sergio, I would ask you to take a closer look at what your royalty has actually given you. Publicity, sure, yup. You got your 15 minutes. But where does it go from there? Please think about what equal rights means, not to mention the progression of archetypes and stereotypes. Is a “queen” what you wish to represent? Is that who you are? Is that what you are? Does that actually do much for the positive progress of the gay community, let alone this marvelous program that you seem to have been a part of at your school?

As for me, I find it disappointing and disheartening. Until the day comes when we can have a prom king who is a female, I think the idea of a prom queen who is male and does not consider himself to be transgendered is a bit more than frustrating and a bit head-shakingly irritating, to be perfectly honest. And accompanying that is the passion and fervor with which people seem to overlook these issues in favor of positive stories about gay issues. Hey! Newsflash! Positive stuff happens all the time and always has! Even before Prop 8! Hard to believe, I know, but true. Either way, keeping your eyes on the prize also means keeping your eye on the ball and staying critical. So long as we do that, we should be fine. For now, I hope the young man enjoys his tiara.