Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TWILIGHT's Cinematic Ancestors: THE WIND, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, MOROCCO, TITANIC, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, LITTLE WOMEN


I'll always stick up for TWILIGHT (the films at any rate) because I love the death drive, and what other series is the lead girl allowed to have an unrepentant disdain for life? That's so ninja! What other teen series is it not only sanctioned but wholly recommended to die for love? That's pre-code woman's picture Hollywood, as old and venerated as Lilian Gish and D.W. Griffith. In refusing to be embraced by the positive life energies of the social order that pines for her, Bella becomes an Antigone-by-way-of-Camille tragi-diva. She may be a virgin, but she's not afraid to give it all up for the idea of love.

It's important for hand-wringing moralists to remember that most everyone in the world knows the difference between fiction and reality, so these kinds of death drives are meant for films -- films are their outlet. They are death on a stick, 50 cents a seat. In a dream, does it really matter if you live beyond the credits? Doesn't Oscar prefer a gloriously overwrought death scene over a happily-ever-after fade to nothing?  Don't we love to pretend to die as children? To achieve true immortality the ideal lover must become only a memory, a twinkle in Gloria Stuart's eye, rather than one who ages into her sofa and squintes at the crosswords through dirty bifocals.

TITANIC (1997)
What could be more functionally Goth than the frozen Arctic ending of this film? I was deeply surprised the frosty hair, pale skin, chattering teeth and purple lip look didn't sweep the world as a fashion trend after this film came out. Sometimes in cultural hypothermia a lag effect doth dwell. A decade or so later, TWILIGHT sped the lag to a close.

LITTLE WOMEN (1994)
I saw this in the theater the same weekend as INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, and was hungover and repentant both times and cried at each. For the purposes of this post, however, WOMEN trumps VAMPIRE. Why? Here's why: a) Brad Pitt's ethical guilt tripping over biting folks in VAMPIRE gets soooo tiresome, and b) Tom Cruise as Lestat? Who cares if he was actually good at it? It's just wrong, no matter how sexy is the Antonio Banderas.

LITTLE WOMEN, meanwhile, has super young Christian Bale, Kristen Dunst (not quite as good as she was in VAMPIRE but who cares), Clare Danes (I cried a thousand drunken times over My So-Called Life reruns on MTV) and Winona Ryder! And even today, the film has a weird charm, like you're staying over at the spooky-cozy mansion house of a group of very, very cool girls in long nightshirts and candles, and that sense of 'belonging' to a cool group of beautiful people is really what TWILIGHT hinges on. Also, Ryder's combination of brainy, brunette and no bullshit-taking becomes a steampunk version of Jo that's a clear forerunner to the whole Kristen Stewart-Bella Goth thing, which Ryder basically invented anyway, six years earlier in BEETLEJUICE.

PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951)
Here's a love story where the guy is a legendary romantic hundreds of years old and only true love will set him free from sailing on into the horizons for centuries, eternally alone. He's willing to give up his chance at salvation when he meets Pandora, though. She's a free spirit who all the boys kill themselves, and each other, over: a macho toreador, a dry British sportsman motorist, and a wise older archaeologist who narrates the tale all pine as the free spirit Pandora, Ava Gardner lolls under thethe painterly camera eye of Jack Cardiff. And the parallels with TWILIGHT are, like, super obvious - her giving up her life to be with him, he giving up the chance for her to give it up because her life means so much to him, and all the rivals fighting over her but she chooses the immortal, to become mythic, this earthly plane be damned... 

DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (1933)
Death is played by Frederic March, who poses as a count and meets a far-away-eyed debutante (Evelyn Venable). She's death-obsessed enough to make Bella seem like Mary Poppins and her Edward ain't some deer-blood drinking Puritan. Love + Death = Modernism, a cry-in-your-whiskey highball tradition. This isn't available on DVD, except as an extra on the two-disc Meet Joe Black (Ultimate Edition), which since you can pick it up for under nine dollars, is worth getting just for that (avoid JOE BLACK itself, and I say this as a man who deeply adores Claire Forlani).

MOROCCO (1931)
Marlene Dietrich's cabaret chanteuse courts androgyny and shuns rich Adolphe Menjou (the Jacob), knowing he'll eat it up. She's defined more by what she's not than what she is, and that's why she falls for 'tall drink of water' Cooper, a shadow in the Foreign Legion who, like her, is bored with the opposite sex throwing themselves all over him. They're each surprised by their deep yen for one another, but both are so used to being pursued they barely remember how to actually do the pursuing. Not to worry, since neither one gives a damn about life or death and Dietrich's final renouncement is as valiant and Goth as anything in the back of Bella's death drivin' mind.

THE WIND (1929)
Silent (or sound) films have seldom spun along with such crazy spirit as in THE WIND: Lillian Gish is the poor virginal girl who gets way less than she bargained for when she moves in with her far-off mail order husband. His homestead is in a dust bowl-ravaged land so windy she spends the bulk of the day sweeping sand out of the shack, and repelling her husband's would-be rapist friends. The whole thing works well as a metaphor for virginity and the loss thereof, the endless sacrifice and loss in exchange for nothing but maybe love. In a way, it's the most sexually and emotionally 'mature' film of the lot. It's the REPULSION of the silent era! Don't miss it, and don't front if you have to read intertitles, or you may never understand DOGVILLE. You been warned! 

1 comment:

  1. "A cold count played by Frederic March meets far-away-eyed debutante (Evelyn Venable, who is awesome). She's death-obsessed enough to make Bella seem like Mary Poppins and her Edward ain't some deer-blood drinking Puritan, but Death with a capital S for Scythe."

    This is the most awesome description of 'Death Takes a Holiday' I have ever come across.

    Great article!

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