Monday, March 25, 2013

The Not So Wonderful Witches of Oz

If you haven't seen Oz The Great and Powerful and don't want to know what happens, then I suggest skipping this post. Have a read of some Sweet Valley High recaps instead. Be grand.

I went to see Oz The Great and Powerful last week. I had heard good things about it, but the Bear had heard the opposite, so we decided to go and make our own minds up. Going into it I thought: "This has LOADS of female characters! Hooray!" However, coming out of the cinema that thought had changed to: "Well that had loads of female characters. And they all sucked."

I love witches and things about witches. When I was finishing my graphic design degree in college, I somehow managed to get away with writing a thesis about the portrayal of witches in art and pop culture and how the image of the witch has evolved over time. It was LOADS of fun to write, and despite my design lecturers looking confused as to what the hell I was up to when they asked what my topic was, my History of Art lecturer loved it. Witches are endlessly brilliant and interesting characters to write about.

So I had been really looking forward to seeing how the three witches in Oz would turn out, as SURELY they'd be powerful, independent and wickedly fun to watch, yes? SURELY they won't spend the entire film telling James Franco's con-man wizard Oscar how fucking brilliant he is, be riddled with daddy issues or appear to be utterly useless until a non-magical dude comes along to chance his arm at fixing everything, YES? Oh. Apparently not.

I liked James Franco in it, I know his character is meant to be a cad, a rogue, a bounder and whatnot and I'm entertained by the fact that every time he smiled in this film he looked like he was high as fuck.

Did someone say nachos?
But he was pretty much ALL the female characters talked about for the entire thing and the few times they weren't talking about him, the conversation was all about the previous wizard, i.e. Glinda's father. This film has THREE important and potentially awesome women in it, two of which are sisters and it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test, a result which is quite frankly pathetic.

So what's the deal with these witches? Well, firstly there's Theodora, played by lovely Mila Kunis, who wears sexy leather pants and immediately falls for Oscar and his rapscallion charm when he initially bumbles his way into the land of Oz. Fair enough, he's got a routine for the pretty ladies, which involves a seemingly infinite supply of cheap music boxes, and it works. But he quickly ditches her and this alone is apparently enough reason for her to abandon all hope and become the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West. Over a dude she literally JUST MET.

You used to be cool, man.
The film essentially boiled down the backstory of one of the most iconic villains of all time to a bitter, shrieking ex-girlfriend, which just seems incredibly insulting. The whole thing just reeked of "bitches be trippin', AMIRITE?" Fuck that noise.

The second witch in question, Evanora (Theodora's sister) has deceitfully taken over the throne of the Emerald City by killing Glinda's father and convincing the people of Oz that Glinda was responsible, resulting in her being banished and therefore out of Evanora's way. On paper she sounds like an excellent villain, but in reality, Evanora just wasn't that interesting. (Although to be fair, she's probably the least objectionable of the three witches in the film.) She wasn't as wicked as her sister turned out to be, but was sort of bad, without being complex or gripping or anything, probably not helped by the fact that she was so busy banging on about the wizard all the fucking time. To paraphrase Dr. Evil, she's the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough.

There was also the fact that it was revealed that she was using a magic necklace to disguise her true appearance, which was that of a hideous old crone, just in case we haven't been beaten over the head with the ugly = bad trope enough in the last while. Her dress was deadly though.

Finally, there was Glinda. Glinda the simpering good witch, who appears to have been instructed by her father's prophecy to wait for a man to come along and claim the throne that should actually be hers by rights. So she does fuck all except hang around spooky graveyards in a dark cloak for reasons that are never actually explained and not bother clearing her name or organising a resistance on her own (which she would be more than capable of, seeing as SHE'S MAGIC and knows the people and terrain, but whatever) until some idiot crashes his hot air balloon into a tornado. Sound.

As my friend Billy pointed out, when she brings Oscar to her fancy castle in order to begin coordinating the rebellion, it looks like she might boot camp his ass into a fighting wizard commander, but instead we get an insipid "oh look, she's falling for him" scene. She knows that Oscar doesn't have any powers like he pretends to and that he lies and tricks his way through life, but hey, it's ok, he should be in charge now because he's sort of good and WE MUST BLINDLY ABIDE BY THE PROPHECY.

Be a good girl and look after the kids instead. Bake a few cakes while you're at it, sure power and agency is for the menfolk, after all.
At this point she's also become a mammy of sorts to the porcelain girl that's been accompanying Oscar on his travels around Oz, offering to tuck her into bed and what have you because maternal women are automatically the good ones and women with no maternal inclinations whatsoever (Evanora, Theodora, me) are villains, obviously.

To me, Glinda just seemed like a fucking sap and ends up little more than a shimmery trophy wife for Oscar at the end, even though she proves herself to be more than a match for Evanora's magic. Boo and indeed hiss.

The producer of the film has been quoted in The Huffington Post saying QUITE SERIOUSLY that:

"...a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing."

Because that's exactly what the movie industry is lacking in! STORIES ABOUT MEN! My GOD, when will all those lady bitches in charge of Hollywood WISE UP and realise that dudes are TOTALLY BEING MARGINALISED. I'M SUPER SERIAL YOU GUYS.

Get. To. Fuck.

The thing is, there were plenty of bits that I did like in the film, there were loads of fun little references to the 1939 film, some really well done CGI and the little porcelain girl was actually quite cool for the most part, but all of the above points just bothered me so much that by the time the film was over, the whole thing was decidedly meh.

It mostly just made me wish that they'd make a film version of Wicked, where the witches are actually layered, complex, interesting, funny, smart characters. Someone make that film already, goddammit.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Quelque Chose #21

From the 1940s right up until the 1970s, the surreal and gorgeous work of photographer Bruce Mozert was used to promote Florida's premier tourist atrraction, Silver Springs.

Mozert was a pioneer in the tricky world of underwater photography, building waterproof casings for his camera that allowed him to create amazing scenes with pretty girls, showing off the the unique clarity of the water in the area.

(More here and hat tip to the lovely Margot for bringing it to my attention.)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Queen Angelyne

A few weeks ago, while on the productivity-sapping vortex of endlessly clickable links also known as Buzzfeed (Greatest Things That Ever Happened On Tumblr? Yes please! Mitt Romney in Disneyland? Sure it'd be rude not to! Some excuse to show a whole bunch of Mean Girls gifs? DON'T MIND IF I DO) I ended up reading a list of 35 Signs You Grew Up in Los Angeles in the 90s for some reason. Even though growing up in the middle of nowhere but quite near Dungarvan in the 90s is probably as far removed from L.A. in the 90s as you could possibly get.

(Goddammit, about 20 minutes have passed since I typed that last sentence, because I've ended up on Buzzfeed AGAIN reading about things that Taylor Swift said this one time. HELP. ME.)

Anyway. One of things on the L.A. in the 90s list was the following:

Angelyne? Who IS she? Is she a real person? That hair! That rack! Is it an ad for a strip club? WHY WON'T THIS BILLBOARD TELL ME ANYTHING?

So off I went to find out more about this mysterious woman, as I'm sure was the exact point of the sign in the first place. It turns out that Angelyne is something of a cult icon in L.A. and commonly known in the area as The Billboard Queen. She's actually a model-slash-actress-slash-singer, but became famous for the self-promoting billboards of her in varying bodacious pin-up girl poses that popped up all over the Los Angeles landscape throughout the 1980s and 90s.

What's interesting, considering that she's primarily famous for being famous (locally, at least), is that not much is actually known about her. She mostly refuses to answer questions, but when she does, gives contradictory information, so there's all this mystique surrounding her, which is kinda awesome. She's even listed on the Los Angeles County registrar of voters as simply "Angelyne". Because Angelyne don't need no surname.

There were rumours that the billboard companies or a millionaire sugar daddy paid for her giant ads when they went up, but she has credited investors with the financial side of things in the past, as well as claiming that it was all her own doing. The initial idea behind the billboards was to promote the rock band she was in at the time (called Angelyne, naturally) but once the signs went up, Angelyne the Billboard Queen was born. 

Over the years, she's been known for driving around L.A. in her hot pink Corvette with a vanity plate that reads ANGELNN and there are websites dedicated to sightings of her, but not in a creepy way, in more of a "oh my God, there she is!" kind of way. It's like she's a mythical creature from the city's gritty, sleazy past, a time before any idiot could be a star through the means of reality TV and YouTube, a self-made cult heroine.

Angelyne still drives around the city, reportedly selling t-shirts and merchandise out of the boot of her pink car to her fans. She's a much older woman at this stage, but has resolutely maintained her human Barbie doll brand, normally head to toe in eye-watering pink and leopard print. Recent pictures of her are all either unflattering paparazzi shots, or fan photos where she'll strike her signature pose with her leg raised and coquettishly hold a magazine with her as the cover girl over her face. I find her quite endearing, and while her outfit choices may be debatable, well that's her look and by god she's sticking to it.

While she never quite got her big break, she had bit parts in a few different films, one of which was 1988's campy and fun Earth Girls Are Easy, which starred a rather young Jim Carrey, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The director decided to give her a walk-on part, or rather, "a lean-in part", as he felt that she was "the Patron Saint of a certain side of L.A."

She released a song some time in the early 80s called My List, and made a music video that featured her driving her pink Corvette around town. Considering some of the videos from this particular decade, I think hers holds up pretty well. I mean, it's SUPER EIGHTIES, but it's fun and cute and the song is actually pretty catchy and when she smiles around the 1:50 mark, she looks really beautiful.

Angelyne's billboards have appeared in an estimated thirty five films and tv shows, including Get Shorty, Volcano and the title sequence of Moonlighting. Her signs have all disappeared at this stage, but they were such an iconic part of the Hollywood landscape, that a replica of her first one was built as part of a recreated Sunset Strip for the filming of the Eighties-set movie version of Rock of Ages.

She ran for Governor of California in 2003, the year that Arnold Schwarzenegger won, finishing 28th out of 135 candidates and has claimed in interviews that she's an alien being from another world. (Which makes me wonder what the deal is with human Barbie dolls believing that they're aliens, as Ukrainian woman Valeria Lukyanova appears to have similar beliefs. Maybe they're on to something?)

She's become so ingrained in L.A. pop culture, that she's had a robot based on her in Futurama (Remember Angle-een? That's her!) and Fergie dressed up as her for Halloween last year. The pink Corvette bag was a nice touch. She was also featured in the video for Moby's We Are All Made Of Stars in 2002, along with her billboard, obviously.

There are great (although fairly brief) interviews with her here and here, if you want to know more about Angelyne. I for one can't get enough of her, I just find her so fascinating for some reason.

A pink unicorn out and about in downtown L.A.