Hottie of the Month: Jane Austen Friday, Aug 31 2007 

Jane AustenAugust has clearly been Jane Austen month for me. First, I read Pamela Aidan’s Darcy trilogy. Then I taught my favorite Austen novel in my Woman & Literature class, Persuasion. I also read Susan Kaye’s None But You, a rewriting of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view. (I’ll blog about that novel in the next few days.) And finally, I saw Becoming Jane. I’m not sure I could get more Austen into one month!

I’ve always loved Persuasion. I can’t now remember when I first read it, but I assume it must have been in college. Whenever it was, I immediately identified with Anne Elliott. I’m not entirely sure why — I clearly wasn’t an aging woman still in love with the man who proposed to me seven years before! But something about her seemed to sum up my feelings as a young gay man too scared to fully come out yet. I’ve taught the novel twice since coming to OU. The first time was in a survey of eighteenth-century lit. I don’t think most of the students cared much for it. More of my students this summer seemed to like it, especially compared to Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, which not a novel I’m likely to teach again anytime soon.

My earliest memory of being aware of Austen was seeing the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. My parents like old black and white movies, so we watched this one from time to time. I loved it. Here’s a good clip:

Then I actually read the book. I had no idea that Elizabeth visited Pemberley! Last summer, I had my students read the novel and then watch both the 1940 version and the 2005 film. They then wrote a paper on which version they think best captured the essence of the novel. I have to say that, despite its obvious problems, I love the romanticism of the 2005 film, as in this clip:

It’s beautiful to watch, and I’ve gotten used to the dreadful ending. (Like most people, I think that the 1995 miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice is by far the best adaptation. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle are perfect as Darcy and Elizabeth.)

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What I’m Listening To: Grace Jones Wednesday, Aug 29 2007 

It all started with seeing La Vie en Rose last month. Afterwards, I was looking on YouTube for a clip of Edith Piaf singing the song from which the movie takes its title. I found it, but I also stumbled across this clip:

This clip is from Grace Jones’s “A One Man Show” from 1982. I think her version of this classic song is genius, and now I’m obsessed with her music. She’s clearly a brilliant performance artist.

I only barely remember Grace Jones from the early ’80s. She started as a vocalist in the late ’70s and then moved on to modeling and movies (campy pics like Conan the Destroyer, Vamp, and the James Bond film, A View to a Kill). She is, of course, known for her androgyny. Hers was an incredibly influential look, and I read that her severe haircut influenced men’s haircuts throughout the ’80s. Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor says about her:

Grace Jones took the disco world by storm with her predatory poses, flashy style, and androgenous looks. Her music mixed punk energy with reggae rhythm.

Ms. Jones was born in Spanishtown, Jamaica, in 1952, but moved to Syracuse, N.Y., at age 12. She became a top model in her early 20s. In 1977, her debut single, “I need a man,” became a disco classic. Several successful albums followed.

After disco’s demise, Jones became a pop star and a poster girl for the ’80s nightclub scene. “Slave to the Rhythm” (1985) was her most enduring album. She also pursued performance art and starred in films, including “A View to a Kill” (1985) and “Conan the Destroyer” (1984).

I’ve been listening to a collection of her early hits for the past week or so. So far, my favorite tracks, besides “La Vie en Rose” are “Libertango,” “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “Breakdown,” and “My Jamaican Guy.”

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Becoming Jane: A Review Tuesday, Aug 28 2007 

This past weekend I saw Julian Jarrold‘s Becoming Jane, a fictionalized retelling of Jane Austen’s becoming a novelist. Here’s the trailer:

The movie stars Anne Hathaway as Austen and James McAvoy as the penniless man she falls in love with but, due to his penury, cannot marry. McAvoy’s Tom LeFroy is dependent on his uncle for an allowance. When his uncle demands that he marry well, LeFroy’s hope of marrying his true love, whom he’s recently met after being banished by said uncle to the deep countryside in punishment for his libertine activities in London, becomes impossible.

Meanwhile, every man in the country seems to fall in love with Jane, including the heir to Lady Gresham’s estate, Mr. Wisley, played by Laurence Fox. Lady Gresham is played by the incomparable Maggie Smith. Poor Jane must decide which beau to marry: the penniless LeFroy, the heir, or one of her other suitors.

The film also shows us Austen’s home life. Her impoverished parents, played by James Cromwell and Julie Walters, debate the roles of love and money in marriage while trying to make sure that their daughter marries as happily as possible. Her sister, Cassandra, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, is happily engaged to her fiance, who must make one last voyage abroad before he’s able to marry her. And the Austens’ cousin, Eliza De Feuillide, played by Lucy Cohu, a widowed emigrant from Revolutionary France, has the money to marry the man of her choice, which turns out to be the Austen’s younger son, Henry, played by the very handsome Joe Anderson.

I have to admit that I didn’t care much for this film. Julian Jarrold also directed Kinky Boots, a movie that I really enjoyed. So, I’m disappointed that I disliked this movie so much. But in this case, I think his direction was rather pedestrian. I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything new or even terribly interesting in this movie. The film that kept coming to mind as a comparison was Pride and Prejudice (2005) directed by Joe Wright. I especially liked Wright’s direction of that movie. A scene that stands out is when Elizabeth and Darcy are dancing together and all of the other dancers disappear, reflecting the couple’s amorous focus on one another. This movie could have used a little more of that romance.

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Rufus Wainwright Friday, Aug 24 2007 

Last night, PJ and I went to Rufus Wainwright’s concert at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion in Columbus. We’d been to this venue once before to see Natalie Merchant. In general, I think it’s a good place to see smaller bands — it’s not too big, you can get pretty close to the stage, and they serve beer and other drinks. This time, we sat in section A row J.

As you can see, that means we were fairly close to the stage. It’s an outdoor venue, so the problem this time was the weather: it was so hot. Add the heat to the fact that the seats are relatively small and bound together and you get a very uncomfortable concert. I had the added difficulty of having to share about a third of my seat with the guy next to me, who took up more room than his own seat provided. Even after sunset, it was terribly hot.

But the concert itself was great. There were two opening acts. The first was A Fine Frenzy, which is the stage name used by Alison Sudol. Here’s a sample of her music:

Her set was pretty short and took place in the blazing sun. But especially considering the heat, she did a great job getting the crowd ready for the subsequent acts. (PJ and I also really liked her drummer, who impressively played percussion and a guitar on one song!)

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Boy Culture: A Review Tuesday, Aug 21 2007 

PJ and I just finished watching Boy Culture, a movie about “X,” a gay prostitute in love with one of his roommates. Here’s the trailer:

The movie stars Derek Magyar as X. X is very successful in his work. He’s twenty-five, ruggedly handsome, and very good at his job. While he limits the number of his clientele to just twelve men, they pay him well. For tax purposes, he has taken on two roommates. The youngest is Joey, played by Jonathon Trent, an eighteen-year-old partier who, though he takes full advantage of his youthful attractiveness, still can’t seduce the man he wants most, X.

Andrew, played by Darryl Stephens, is the other roommate. As X relates early in the film, the movie is really all about Andrew. X is in love with him but is too afraid of rejection to fully open himself to the possibility of love. Hence, the plot of the film: Will X and Andrew overcome their differences and get together or will their respective issues stand in their way?

Boy Culture is based on a novel of the same name by Matthew Rettenmund. I read the novel last year and really liked it. In fact, I had thought seriously about teaching it in my Lesbian & Gay Literature class this past time (but ended up teaching Hard by Wayne Hoffman instead).

What I like most about the novel, however, is what’s missing from the movie. Rettenmund’s book avoids sentimentality even while telling a love story. It also contains quite a bit of sex, much of it somewhat graphically related. The movie, however, revels in sentimentality — surprisingly so for a film about a hustler. It also pretty much avoids sex — except for a comic montage of X’s clients, a little shirtlessness every now and then, and lots of talk about sex, the movie is down right staid compared to something like Queer as Folk (British or American version) or Dante’s Cove.

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Superbad: A Review Friday, Aug 17 2007 

I just got back from seeing Superbad, starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. It is by far the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. Here’s the trailer:

The movie is directed by Greg Mottola and was written by Seth Rogen, who also appears in the film, and Evan Goldberg. As a lot of the advance press has noted, Rogen and Goldberg started writing the screenplay when they were 14. Rogen is perhaps most famous right now for starring in Knocked Up.

Superbad is very much a genre picture — three high school friends about to graduate conclude that the last party before summer is their perfect shot at losing their virginities and gaining sexual experience before going off to college. But it takes the genre in a whole new direction by easily being the most hilarious high-school-buddies-losing-their-virginities-movie ever made.

Hill, who had small roles in Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, among other films, and Cera, who shined as George-Michael Bluth in “Arrested Development,” are great as the film’s two leading buddies. Hill is wonderful as the blundering idiot with a heart of gold, and Cera has the part of the awkward good guy who doesn’t just want sex with the girl of his dreams down pat — he wants to respect her too. But the film really belongs to Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays the nerdy pal who is getting a fake ID just in time to buy alcohol for the party. When the three guys show up at the liquor store, a wild ride ensues as they get separated, come back together, and get separated again. One gets befriended by the cops who should be arresting him; one ends up with menstrual blood on his pants after dirty dancing with a woman at a party; and one learns that he can run like the wind.

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Teaching Fun Home to Straight Students Thursday, Aug 16 2007 

I’ve been teaching two classes during our second summer session. One is a junior-level literature course on women and literature, the other a junior-level writing course on women and writing. We’ve just finished the fourth week of the session and have one more to do. I keep swearing to anyone who will listen that this has to be my last summer of teaching. It’s exhausting, which makes me cranky, and it’s keeping me from writing (both my scholarship and my blog).

The money’s pretty good, but I’m increasingly convinced that it’s just not worth it. I have career ambitions that aren’t ever going to happen until I get a second book finished. And my second book isn’t going to write itself. Plus, I’ve been doing a little work on an article when I steal a minute or two between classes and fits of exhaustion, and I’m definitely feeling some resentment that my teaching isn’t letting me get it done (which is obviously a bad thing to feel). So, I’m not planning on teaching next summer. Instead, I’m planning to write (and maybe visit the Alps).

But in the meantime, I’m teaching two classes. The writing course has been focused on women’s autobiographical writing. We started with Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and discussed whether we thought that it counted as an autobiography. We then read Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, which is an autobiography and connects back to the issues of slavery and race that Behn raises. Our third book was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

We spent one day on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “White Glasses,” an essay that I absolutely love. In the right context (i.e., not near the end of a summer session), it’s a joy to teach. It’s an amazing piece of writing, in my opinion. And now we’re doing Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

I was a little hesitant to teach Fun Home in this class. Of course one never knows for sure, but I assume that all of my students are straight. They’re also not English majors and may not even be particularly interested in reading great literature, which Fun Home is. So, I was worried about how they would respond.

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What I’m Listening to: Paolo Nutini Wednesday, Aug 15 2007 

This past weekend, I was watching the Vh1 countdown for a few minutes. I think I saw the top four or five videos of the week. One of them was by a new artist, Paolo Nutini. Here’s the video:

I really liked the song’s tender sadness, and Nutini’s voice reminds me a bit of Ray LaMontagne, another musician that I really like. There are times when I’m really in the mood for male folk music, and Nutini certainly showed the promise of fitting into that groove for me.

I then did a little more research on him. He is a twenty-year-old Scotsman, who released his first major studio album last year. He’s now catching on here in the States. Next, I went to YouTube to see some of his other videos. The first one I came across was his song “New Shoes:”

This one kind of reminded me of early Sheryl Crow — something like “All I Wanna Do.”

By this point I liked his music well enough to purchase it. While I like the two songs above, I’m currently in love with two other tracks: “Rewind” and “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty.” Here’s clips of them:

I’m playing both of these over and over. I’m not sure whether Nutini could be lumped in with the other crop of British singers currently trying to conquer the Billboard charts, Mika, Lilly Allen, and Amy Winehouse, but it does make me wonder if we’re starting to experience a new British invasion. I like all four of them, even though they’re all quite different. Even though I’m quite aware of the fact that I’m not a twenty-year-old heterosexual Scotmans, something about “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty” thrills me — it’s now my feel good song that I can’t get out of my head!

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Pamela Aidan’s Darcy Trilogy: A Review Monday, Aug 13 2007 

coverOver the past few weeks I’ve been reading Pamela Aidan’s “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy: An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain (pictured here). These books retell the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view.

Aidan has done a remarkable job of maintaining the spirit and character of Austen’s novel while adding original material of her own. As somewhat of a purist, I would have enjoyed a little less of the latter, but I really enjoyed all three books. They’re all good reading.

An Assembly Such as This relates Mr. Darcy’s viewpoint during his visit to Netherfield. Throughout this first volume, Aidan skillfully recreates Austen’s scenes — the public ball, Jane’s illness and Elizabeth’s subsequent visit at Netherfield, and Mr. Bingley’s ball. I was definitely impressed by her ability to retain much of Austen’s dialogue while creating a full-fledged and believable character in her version of Mr. Darcy. Of the three volumes, this one follows Austen’s original most closely; I found it very enjoyable.

The second volume, Duty and Desire, traces Mr. Darcy’s struggle to overcome his feelings for Elizabeth after leaving Netherfield. In this book, Aidan moves away from mimicking Austen’s plot, dialogue, and characters by filling in the “silent time” of Austen’s novel (as the back of the book says). Trying to get over his interest in Elizabeth, Darcy spends the novel pushing Bingley away from his love for Jane, keeping a watchful eye on his sister, Georgiana, and attending various social events for the London elite, including a country gathering at Norwycke Castle, the home of one of his old Cambridge buddies, a party that nearly turns disastrous for our leading man.

Aidan does a particularly good job of creating a rounder version of Georgiana than Austen provides. She also creates a new character, Lord Dy Brougham, another of Darcy’s college friends. I liked this volume the least of the three, however, since it departs the most from Austen’s original. I especially found the chapters on Darcy’s visit to Norwycke to find some other woman to love a bit tedious and drawn out. Some mystical elements are also introduced into the plot; I ultimately lost interest in this plot line and ultimately couldn’t keep the characters straight — there are several original male and female characters in this section. For someone like me, this novel is mostly filler — the stuff that happens before we get back to the real story.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: A Review Tuesday, Aug 7 2007 

Batman coverI’m a little late to the party, but over the past weekend I read Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knights Returns, first published in 1986. As I’ve written about previously, the first (and until now only) graphic novel I’ve finished was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is an amazing book. I then started to read about graphic novels in general, picked up a few particular novels, and briefly thought about teaching one of my summer classes on graphic novels by women (I’m teaching a course on Women & Writing and one on Women & Literature).

PJ has been into graphic literature much longer than I have. He read comics as a kid and started reading recent classics — such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Maus — a few years ago. He therefore wanted to encourage my new interest and so he purchased Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life. I had read about the latter one online, so I was really excited when he bought it.

Gravett quotes Stephen King, who asserts, that Miller’s Batman is “probably the finest piece of comic art ever to be published in a popular edition” (78). It is an amazing text.

Not having been much of a comics reader when I was a kid, it took me a little while to decipher the codes on how to read this text. It’s very sophisticated and postmodern. Miller tends to pack as much information in as few frames as possible, which can disorient the reader, forcing him or her to make connections and fill in blanks. The images in the novel are also sophisticated, and Miller uses a variety of colors, styles, and techniques to relate different moods in different parts of the story. (I was so excited when I finally noticed — well into the book — that he color codes character’s thought boxes: Batman’s are grey, Superman’s are blue, and the Joker’s are green, for example.) He also plays with perspective, which he often uses to build suspense and excitement. Everything works together to tell a great story.

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