Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Muppets

After dinner on Thanksgiving I went to see The Muppets with my brother and sister in law.

I had never seen the previous two muppet movies, and didn't really have any feeling about muppets one way or another. I thought this one was kind of bland and formulaic and not particularly entertaining. Although a woman sitting near me in the theater was thoroughly enthralled and delighted. Clearly she had grown up adoring the muppets, and this was a meaningful experience for her. Which leads me to believe it is best suited for children and people who are already big fans.

Gender Rebel

The other day I watched a documentary on Watch Instantly called Gender Rebel, which follows a few young genderqueer couples. One is dealing with telling her mom about being genderqueer, another is transitioning, MTF, and it follows the strain placed on her lesbian relationship, and the third follows a young genderqueer who is moving from the East Coast where she doesn't feel safe to San Francisco in search of a community.

I found it to be a very sensitive documentary, with a lot of humanity, and very interesting and engaging for its 45 minutes. It didn't however explore gender issues in much depth or offer any kind of analysis.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ties That Bind

I just finished reading Ties that Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences by Sarah Schulman.

I had recommended it for a student, and then thought I should check it out myself. It turned out to be impossible to put down.

Ties that Bind is about the active exclusion of gay people that exists at every level in our culture. The family is a primary, crucial institution for instilling and enacting homophobia and heterosexual privilege, and Schulman unflinchingly examines the injustice of this shunning. It is a call for third party intervention, for others to defend the rights to dignity and inclusion that the victims deserve. It includes very interesting sections on other kinds of victimization and abuse and silencing, which illuminate the particular consequences for queers. It also includes examples from the authors personal history which very powerfully illustrate the injustices of homophobia in the family, as well as in the world of art, entertainment, and publishing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Piano Teacher

I just finished watching The Piano Teacher (on Watch Instantly).

About a decade ago I was on a real Jelinek kick, and read several of her novels, all of which I was really into. I think, if I remember correctly, that I liked The Piano Teacher the least. Still I have been meaning to see the French film version of it for a long time.

So... I just don't know what to think. I suppose that is a good thing, when the director doesn't impose a point of view on you. But it's rather disconcerting.

The Piano Teacher is basically a character study, focusing on a kind of archetypically repressed woman. Hair back, high collared shirt. She is a highly intelligent, highly controlled, curt and acerbic musician who teaches piano at a conservatory. Her personality is so cold, so unforgiving, and so stiff, that it is very difficult to empathize with her. This becomes a particular problem when she mutilates herself, and when she does one very cruel thing to one of her students. Not being able to connect with her makes these things, and others, very agitating to watch.

She lives with her overbearing and unkind mother, and she has a few dark sexual predilections. But the story centers around a relationship between her and student at the conservatory who pursues her, and whom she ultimately engages in masochistic fantasy.

I felt agitated and disturbed throughout the movie. But I was mesmerized by the pacing, the control, and the acting. It was an unpleasant experience, but a powerful one.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Mere Future

I LOVED The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman. I read it very quickly, totally captivated by the unique, at times beautifully dissonant, and emotionally sharp prose.

It takes place in Manhattan in the future, and the city has been transformed by a charismatic leader with an astute aesthetic sense. The novel explores a number of interrelated characters. Their inner world and social identity are illuminated by the wonderful writing, and my only complaint is that as the plot quickened I knew the experience would be over before I was ready to say goodbye to the characters.

This was the first book I read on my iPhone. It was kind of ironic, reading a dystopic novel that addresses the alienation of consumerism on the device I am increasingly dependent on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sarah Schulman at RADAR event

Last night I went to a great RADAR event held at Viracocha, a very cool store in the Mission. The reading took place down stairs in a wonderful space (that included a bar!).

Ali Liebegott read from a novel she is working on, and the selection she shared was about an intense scene involving a dog. I really liked the work.

Then Sarah Schulman read from her new novel, The Mere Future, and it sounded like such an interesting and evocative work. In the 90s I read and loved Rat Bohemia and Empathy, and now, in addition to wanting to go out and get The Mere Future, I want to re-read those novels, which I remember as being wonderfully written.

After the reading Michelle Tea interviewed Sarah Schulman and the discussion was fascinating. The audience got insight into Schulman's writing process and experiences as a queer writer making literary space for herself and her community in the world. All in all a great event.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sybil Exposed

Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, by Debbie Nathan, is a marvelous, marvelous read. Completely impossible to put down.

It is a biography of the three central women behind the Sybil book -- the real life Sybil, Shirley A Mason, her shrink, Connie Wilbur, and the author Flora Schriber. It describes the histories and issues of these frustrated women and the ways in which they manipulated and exploited each other. In particular it focuses on the ways in which Wilbur manipulated Shirley into acting out, and the ways in which the diagnosis of MPD was constructed out of thwarted needs and misguided attempts at finding satisfaction. The diagnoses, is a hoax; but it tapped into anxieties and concerns of two generations of American women, the pre-feminist and early feminist women who were negotiating new female identities...

I loved reading this book. I gobbled it up on the plane to Syracuse and back and was disappointed when it ended...


Sidewalk is a terrific documentary based on Mitch Duneier's ethnography of street booksellers in Greenwich Village. It allows you to really get to know several of the men, and provides an understanding of many of the conditions and obstacles faced by the homeless.

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo is a powerful and gripping documentary about the routine and often sadistic rapes of women in this war-torn country. The violence is at times very difficult to watch, but the documentary is made with sensitivity to this important subject.

No! The Rape Documentary

No! The Rape Documentary is a wonderful exploration of rape in the African American community, particularly looking at the reasons this form of violence is often silenced.