GEMCS: A Review Wednesday, Feb 28 2007 

I arrived home from Chicago late Sunday night. My flight had been canceled and I had to fly standby in order to get a flight. I really don’t deal well with travel disruptions, so it was a very stressful and tiring day. I still feel fairly exhausted!

I was in Chicago for the conference of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies. One of the good things about GEMCS has always been its friendliness to beginning scholars and to scholarship on a wide range of issues — it’s a conference at which graduate students can rub elbows with major scholars and at which papers on gender and queer issues are relatively common. But it also has some inherent weaknesses, the primary one being that papers are short — no more than 15 minutes long. Once you’re an established scholar and want to give a 20- to 30-minute paper on your topic, 15 minutes is extremely difficult to pull off.

The conference went well. I actually attended about 5 sessions — which I think might be a record for me. Usually, I end up being a tourist, hanging out with friends, and spending as much time as possible drunk. So, this past weekend was definitely an improvement in that regard.

I can’t say that I heard very many papers that really excited me (in the sense of wanting to rush out and find out more about the topic). The most interesting paper I heard was from a friend and mentor of mine, Misty. She read a paper on the Methodist evangelist George Whitefield. Her paper was part of a panel on “Queer Cultural Encodings,” and she talked mostly about a confessional autobiography Whitefield wrote. This autobiography certainly made him sound rather queer. After hearing it, I do want to read more about Whitefield and this confessional text.

I also really enjoyed attending my friend Nicole’s panel, a round table discussion on “Literary History, Cultural Studies, and Multidisciplinarity.” The five panelists were interested in discussing questions of interdisciplinary work, New historicism and its alternatives, and the task of doing literary history. They all raised very interesting questions and issues. Later that evening, my friend James and I went to dinner with Nicole and three of the other panelists from her session. I really like them! We had a great time eating, drinking, and chatting. I hope I get the chance to hang out with them again.

My panel had the unfortunate situation of being scheduled on Sunday morning. Not surprisingly, we had only three audience members (two of which were my friends). Nevertheless, I was glad to give my paper. I really think I’m on to something with it — even though the process of writing the paper convinced me that I had previously been reading the play incorrectly. I’m hoping to keep working on it and maybe turn it into an article. I also thought the three papers in my session worked well together thematically.

And finally, while attending a session I looked over and saw one of my former students in the audience. I was surprised to say the least. Sara had been one of our honors students here at OU when I first got here. She’s definitely one of the smartest students I’ve ever taught. I was glad to see her and get a chance to chat a bit. She’s now a Renaissance PhD student at the University of Illinois.

Sometime in the next couple of days, I’ll write more about my visit to Chicago and the socializing I did there. On the whole, I’d say the conference went well. I was disappointed in when my paper was scheduled. But I had fun and just writing the paper was helpful for my larger project. So, on the whole, a good (but not great) conference.

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Favorite Movies of 2006 Sunday, Feb 25 2007 

This is the last of my “favorite of” posts. In honor of the Oscars, I’ve saved my favorite movies of 2006 for today.

I want to start by noting that it’s relatively difficult to see the best movies of the year in Athens. We often get movies well after they’ve shown everywhere else. Many “art films” only play here for a week. And sometimes we don’t get them at all. We still haven’t gotten Letters from Iwo Jima, for example. That’s one of two movies I have yet to see — the other being The Departed — that might make it onto my favorites list once I see them. So, my current list is subject to change. I have a top film of the year and then 4 other favorites in no particular order.

My favorite movie of the year was John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. My original post about the movie is here. I really loved this film. It’s innovative, socially relevant, and totally engrossing. Mitchell definitely lives up to the promise of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

I also loved Infamous, the second movie in as many years about Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood. I posted about it here. I really liked Capote and thought that it should have won best picture in 2005, but Infamous is an even better film. Toby Jones is wonderful!

The next film in my top 5 was The History Boys. I posted about it here. It’s an excellent look at the English school system in the 1980s, and all of the actors are great. I wish I had seen them in the original London production.

Quinceanera is also on my list. I wrote about it here. I really like its exploration of class and its stylistic realism. It’s probably the simplest of the films on my list — simple in terms of plot — but it makes an important statement about class, ethnicity, and sexuality in L.A.

And finally, I loved The Last King of Scotland. I originally reviewed it here. I wish James McAvoy had gotten more credit for his performance in this film. He and Forrest Whitaker are both excellent.

So, what do I think these movies say about my tastes? I like political films — political in the sense of being about relationships of power in social relationships. Most of the films I like are also gay-themed. And almost all of them feature attractive men! Maybe I’ll get a chance to see Letters from Iwo Jima while I’m in Chicago.

Favorite Music of 2006 Saturday, Feb 24 2007 

I should admit up front that I often have rather cheesy tastes when it comes to music. I also tend to like very mainstream music. I will forever believe, for example, that Tina Turner is a goddess. So, I’m a little hesitant to make public what songs I most liked in 2006. But I’ve started this little series, so I guess I might as well finish it!

The songs I most liked from 2006 are (in no particular order after the first one):

The River Is Wild” by The Killers (the “big sound,” for lack of a better phrase, of The Killers at their best)

Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (I first heard this song when GB performed on the MTV Movie awards in Star Wars costumes — what more could you want in a group!? Plus, it’s got such a great, smooth base line)

Save Me from Myself” by Christina Aguilera (I like this track’s quite sincerity — not a lot of the vocal tricks CA can indulge in. And I like its sentiment. It sums up how I feel about PJ in some ways, though I understand that I’m not, in fact, a woman!)

On the Radio” by Regina Specktor (I have no idea what this song means, but it seems true and I love it anyway. This is how it works …)

Love You I Do” from the Dreamgirls soundtrack (A simple love song that’s catchy and has Jennifer Hudson — I love her, I do)

When You Were Young” by The Killers (I love the video for this song. The song is also really good, and the pounding guitars and strings near the ending crescendo is great)

Everybody Knows” by The Dixie Chicks (I think this song best sums up the DC’s experiences in the past few years while remaining universal, more or less, and, as I told PJ the other day, I’ve yet to hear a song entitled “Everybody Knows” that I didn’t like!)

When Doves Cry” by The Be Good Tanyas (great, great cover of Prince’s iconic song — they really “make it their own,” to quote from American Idol)

My favorite album from the year was The KillersSam’s Town. I like Brandon Flowers in his scruffy western wear. Plus he’s a talented singer/musician/writer. It’s a top notch pop album, in my opinion.

Just for the record: my favorite album of all time — indeed the only album that I think it completely, 100% perfect is Tracy Chapman‘s debut album, Tracy Chapman. I’ve been listening to it for almost 20 years now and I still think it’s perfect — great to hear, socially aware, and politically radical. I love it. I remember the day I bought it (on cassette tape, lol!). When I heard Sharon Olds read a couple of years ago, the first thing I thought was, “I didn’t know poetry could do that.” When I first listened to Tracy Chapman on my walkman while sitting on my parent’s front porch, I had much the same reaction: “I didn’t know music could do that.” It sums up — or maybe it shaped — my worldview. I just wish the world would have changed more in the past twenty years than it has.

I’ve just started listening to two new albums: Norah JonesNot Too Late and Lucinda WilliamsWest — maybe I’ll post about them when I get back from Chicago.

Favorite Books of 2006 Friday, Feb 23 2007 

Although PJ insists that I didn’t read much last year, I did in fact read quite a few books, certainly enough to have a top 5 list. (But I’m only including books that were actually published in 2006 on the list.)

  1. Fun Home: By far, the best book I read last year was Alison Bechdel’s memoir about her relationship with her father. I’ve already blogged about it, so I’ll just refer here to my previous post. But again, it’s a great, great book.
  2. Hard: The best gay novel I read last year was Wayne Hoffman’s Hard. My previous post about it is here.
  3. The Last Time I Saw You: Rebecca Brown’s collection of short stories is amazing. I’ve decided that I won’t be teaching it next quarter in my Lesbian & Gay Lit course because I don’t think it fits with the other texts we’ll be reading, but I might teach it in my Women & Writing class over the summer. I’ve written about this book here.
  4. History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism: This book by historian Judith Bennett is the best academic book I read in 2006. (Actually, I’m still reading it, but it came out last year so I’m counting it here.) It’s a study of feminism, women’s history, and the discipline of historical studies. It’s very well written (not “academic” at all — in a good way) and I really like her perspective on the issues of patriarchy, feminism, and history. I’m also thinking about this book for my Women & Writing class this summer. Her chapter on patriarchy is simply foundational for any class that deals with “the patriarchy” as a topic. I highly recommend it.
  5. I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir: The best traditional-form memoir that I read last year is John Kilmer-Purcell’s book about his days as a boozing drag queen with a hooker drug addicted boyfriend. It’s a real page turner, to say the least. In the post-James Frey world, I guess we’re all sceptical of outlandish memoirs, but even if this book were all a fiction it would still be a great read. It reminds me quite a bit of Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs — maybe gay men are getting into a rut when it comes to memoir as a genre, or maybe this means that there’s a market for these kinds of books and that’s why they’re getting published. Regardless, I Am Not Myself These Days is an entertaining read.

I guess the most disappointing book I read last year was Leslie Feinberg’s Drag King Dreams. Well, I haven’t actually finished it yet. And I really don’t think it’s Feinberg’s fault that I’m not enjoying it — how many people write two masterpieces in one lifetime? Stone Butch Blues is one of the most amazing books ever written; it’s undoubtedly impossible to live up to that standard every time Feinberg writes a book.

I guess I need to get to a book store soon to start on 2007’s books! Any recommendations?

Favorite Plays of 2006 Thursday, Feb 22 2007 

Since Sunday is Oscar night, I thought I would include a series of posts this week about my favorite movies, music, books, and plays of 2006.

I’ll start with plays. Considering that I live in the middle of a national forest, I saw a surprising number of plays in 2006, including ones in here in Athens and in London, Oxford, and New York. Here are my top five plays of the year:

  1. Billy Elliott the Musical: PJ, my sister, and I saw it in London in July. As the title suggests, it is a musical version of the film Billy Elliott. I love the movie, so I was a bit wary of seeing the play. It was great. Elton John’s music was excellent — I especially like the number “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.” The acting was also wonderful — the actor playing Billy Elliott was fantastic! And the writer did a great job of adapting the film’s plot to the stage; I thought they did an especially good job with the grandmother. She has a great song in the first act that helps inspire Billy to dance. It’s definitely worth seeing when it comes to America.
  2. The Little Dog Laughed: Since I’ve already blogged about this play, I’ll just refer to my earlier comments. Unfortunately, this play is closing soon (if not already), but it’s really great. Apparently, it had trouble finding an audience, which is too bad. Julie White is amazing!
  3. The Seagull: We saw this in London this summer too. It starred Juliet Stephenson. She was great and the production was excellent. I was especially impressed by the set design. It was amazing, but it was also obviously difficult to arrange between scenes — the audience often had to wait a few minutes for them to rearrange everything, which wasn’t always good for the theatrical flow. But overall the production was very good.
  4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: I hate this play, but the production we saw in the park in London this summer really made me forget that fact. I think that warrants a shout out! I especially liked that this production imagined the fairies as goth-punk kids. It really worked.
  5. Man of La Mancha: I’ve also written about this already, so I’ll refer to my previous comments again. Even though it’s a traveling company, I liked what they did. Besides, if you live in a national forest, you can’t be too picky about the theater that comes to town!

Hopefully, 2007 will be as theatrically successful as 2006 was. Whether it is or not, I’m sure I’ll write about it eventually! (P.S. The worst production I saw this year was an outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice in Oxford. It was laughably terrible!)

Hottie of the Month Wednesday, Feb 21 2007 

February’s Hottie of the Month is … William Congreve, pictured here. Congreve is one of the most famous of the late seventeenth-century dramatists (others include Aphra Behn, William Wycherley, Sir George Etherege, Thomas Otway, and Sir John Vanbrugh).

Congreve lived from 1670 to 1729 and is most famous for writing The Way of the World, perhaps the most anthologized play of the late seventeenth century — I refuse to call him a Restoration playwright, since “the Restoration” as a period really should end in 1689 with the ascent of William and Mary. (Maybe I should post about that sometime — titillating, don’t ya think?!)

Actually, I don’t particularly like William Congreve all that much. This is at least partly a response to his play being so anthologized. If students are going to read only one Restoration comedy, I think it should be The Man of Mode, The Country Wife, or The Rover. These are actual Restoration comedies. Congreve really represents something else — the beginning of the eighteenth century and it’s rejection of what it perceived to be Restoration (im)morality.

But Willy’s kind of cute in this portrait — I love his wig and his chubby cheeks. If he had been born about a decade earlier, I could imagine him as Rochester’s catamite.

And The Way of the World is a great play — except for the characters’ names: Mirabell and Millamant as our leading man and lady? Whatever. (In case it isn’t obvious, the “hottie of the month” feature is very tongue-in-cheek!) Check back in a month to see who’s March’s hottie!

Off to Chicago Tuesday, Feb 20 2007 

I leave tomorrow to attend the conference of the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies in Chicago. Hopefully, the weather will be fine and I’ll get a chance to see some sights (as well as hear some good papers!). I’m meeting friends at the conference, so I know that I’ll have fun!

In the mean time, if I get a chance before I leave, I plan on pre-posting some blogs. I’m excited to play with this feature of wordpress. Hopefully, I get some time to do it — I’d really like to catch up on blogging before I start teaching again next month.

If nothing appears on the blog between now and Sunday, you’ll know that I either ran out of time or didn’t pre-post correctly. (Do I hear any bets on which is most likely?!)

Au revoir!

I’m so far behind Sunday, Feb 18 2007 

I haven’t been able to blog all week, despite the fact that I’ve had several posts I’d like to have written. I spent the first part of the week participating in another seven-year review, this time for the School of Telecommunications. Like the Math review, it’s really interesting to meet people from other departments and see how they do some parts of our jobs differently than my department does. All of the people in T-Comm seem really cool.

Richard CumberlandAfter that, I had to start writing my paper for a conference I’m attending this coming week. I’ll be going to the Group for Early Modern Cultural Studies in Chicago. It really sucks that my panel isn’t until Sunday. I’m leaving on Wednesday, though, so I can do a little research at the Newberry Library and see some of the sights while I’m in Chicago. I’m now almost finished writing my paper, which is on Richard Cumberland’s The Jew, a 1794 sentimental comedy. (This is Cumberland’s portrait on the left.) I’ve really enjoyed working on it. This is one of two texts that got me interested in my current book project in the first place, so it’s fun to return to the play and write about it finally.

On Friday, I attended a friend’s colloquium, and several of us went out afterwards. Unfortunately, I was also getting sick, so I didn’t really feel like taking part in too much of the conversation at either event. But the colloquium went well and having drinks and dinner afterwards was a lot of fun. The best part was when, in response to my bringing up John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, two of our friends started talking about the words “fellatio” and “cunnilingus.” This past weekend was parents’ weekend here at OU, and two parents were having dinner with their son at a table nearby. Let’s just say that they didn’t appreciate hearing about fellatio over dinner, but no one at our table besides PJ and I seemed to notice. As one friend kept saying “fellatio” over and over again, the mother behind us kept trying to get our attention by loudly saying, “We’re eating … we’re eating dinner here … Some of us are trying to eat dinner …..” It was hilarious! We rteally thought that our tallest friend was about to get accosted by an angry mother.

But all that “fun” has kept me from blogging. Last weekend, PJ and I saw Pan’s Labyrinth, which was really good — not great, in my opinion, but really good. It’s about a little girl who “escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world” in 1944 fascist Spain. It’s not one of my favorite films of the year, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Here’s the trailer:

Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to catch up on a couple of other posts before I leave on Wednesday.

Quinceañera: A Review Friday, Feb 9 2007 

Tonight PJ and I watched Quinceanera on DVD. It’s a great film written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmorland. It’s definitely one of the best independent gay films we’ve seen recently.

The movie is about two cousins, Magdalena and Carlos. Magdalena, played by Emily Rios, is nearly her 15th birthday, on which she is supposed to have a sweet-fifteen party. A few months before the big celebration, Magdalena finds out that she is pregnant, despite her protestations that she and her boyfriend have never gone all the way. Her preacher father kicks her out of the house, and she moves in with her uncle. Already living with the uncle is Carlos, who was also thrown out of his family’s home when they discovered his homosexuality (they found one of the websites he frequented on the family’s computer).

The uncle, played by Chalo González, lives in a small house,  on a property that has recently been purchased by a gay couple. His new landlords immediately take an interest in Carlos, played by Jesse Garcia, and Carlos immediately takes an interest in them. Unfortunately, Carlos’s initiation into the world of middle-class gaydom is far from smooth. Indeed, both Carlos and Magdalena are in for several disappointments over the course of the movie, but the realities of their lives ends up being honest and beautiful rather than simply or merely sad.

One of the things I like about the movie is its hard look at social conditions for these poor hispanic families. Set in Echo Park in Los Angeles, the film looks at the downside to gentrification: in order for the gays to move into the neighborhood, the previous residents have to be displaced. Many of these residents, like the uncle, quickly find that they can no longer afford to rent in the area, and others, seeing the rising worth of their homes, find that they cannot pass up the opportunity to sell to the relatively wealthy (and usually white) gays. While the movie explores these tensions, I also like that it doesn’t become a gay-bashing movie, which I could easily imagine it being.

I also like the movie’s complex depiction of gay people. Carlos is initially shown as a thief and troublemaker, but we quickly see that this is in part due to his situation as a poorly educated and nearly homeless young adult with few prospects. His style is very much that of his neighborhood rather than of the middle-class gays who move in next door. And he navigates a gay masculinity that is part street tough machismo and part sensitive lover. Furthermore, the middle class gays are somewhat predatory and even villainous. The two men initiate Carlos into their lives via a threesome, but their interest in him is almost solely sex.

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Romeo & Juliet Thursday, Feb 8 2007 

Tonight we saw The Aquila Theatre Company‘s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Overall, I liked it. It was generally well staged and acted — a little gimmicky, but a good production overall.

Let’s start with the gimmick: the production begins with the actors’ asking audience members to draw the parts out of little bags and thus assigning each actor his or her part. This process, says the program, creates “newfound excitement and drama” each night, since one of the guys could be assigned the part of Juliet and one of the women could be Romeo. That didn’t happen tonight, much to the dismay of the students sitting behind us. We has a 50-year-old Romeo and a female Juliet.

PJ is extremely skeptical that this “game of chance” is on the up and up. He thinks it’s rigged, and I have to admit that I agree, especially since each actor has his or her own bag that s/he carries out to the audience — why not just have one bag if all of the parts are equally assignable? It just feels too much like a magician’s trick. And it’s gimmicky.

The leading actors in this production were the ones playing Juliet (Basienka Blake on our night) and the actor playing Mercutio, the nurse, and Paris (Andrew Schwartz), both of whom were excellent. The actor playing Romeo was also good. The other three actors played lesser roles, though one of them was particularly bad in parts.

The production was obviously staged to be performed in a smalled theater-in-the-round. The set design consisted largely of a stage on the stage. Costumes were minimal. When actors weren’t “onstage,” they usually sat to the side of the onstage stage and were thus visible to the audience. This had the effect of foregrounding the theatricality of the performance, which is something I almost always like. I just about always delight in this kind of thing, when productions force the audience to remember that this is theater, not reality.

On the whole, this was a good production. I enjoyed most of it — the three exceptions being one particular actor’s amateurish performance, the production’s attempt to breeze through the play too rapidly, and its efforts to make the play more comic. This latter attempt usually worked, but when it didn’t (like when the “bad” actor laughed in an overly evil way that sounded cartoonish) it really didn’t.

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