Does This Corset Make My Ass Look Queer?

Ask any red-blooded baboon: as repressed as the Victorians were, the bustle was a flagrant invitation to do nasty things from behind.

I miss the Victorian Era.  It’s not just that I miss the high-waisted trousers and the frock coats, and the prospect of reading Dickens serialized in the paper every week.  I am probably one of the few men in the modern era who can say he had two frock coats hanging in his closet at one point, made for me by my tailor in Delhi to my amateur designer’s specifications, based on yet another Yohji Yamamoto frock coat I brought in for him to copy.  It’s not that thinking about the Victorian Era makes me miss when I had hair, either, which I usually wore long and curly on top and shortish on the sides, with my sideburns always down to my jawline.  No, the real reason I miss the Victorian Era most is because had I lived then I would have been straight.

As every gay man knows, while inwardly guffawing at those misguided conservative poodles who incessantly yip that ours is a “lifestyle choice,” only an extreme masochist with a major reactionary streak would ever choose to be gay over being straight.  Most of us believe we would make great straight men.  We’d be wonderful fathers, we would seriously pay attention to our woman’s appearance, we’d never even tire of clothes shopping with her.

The reason a Ghey like me would have been straight back then is I would likely have gotten married, had kids, and nobody would have been the wiser.  My wife would have been so repressed and confined by the rigid corset of social mores that she wouldn’t have admitted even to herself that I wasn’t banging her, much less to anyone else.  She would have ignored the stable full of handsome young stable hands, who would have walked funny after I’d spent an afternoon “grooming my horse.”  In the unlikely event of a complaint from her, I would have just yanked a lace in the back of her dress like a yo-yo string and she would have passed right out on the parlor floor like a rag doll, after being cut off from what little air she was getting to begin with.

The Victorian Era was basically when Western culture turned Japanese for a hundred years.  It was graceful, fraught with fascinating social intricacies and niceties, but was, all kidding aside, clearly a real pain in the ass.” />

That's what happened to my hair. Michael Fassbender stole it.

Cary Joji Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre is the strongest cinematic adaptation of the Brontë classic ever, and that is saying a lot because it is a novel that lends itself extraordinarily well to adaptation, and has many times.  The broad strokes of the story, like solid whale bones in a good corset, are enough to sustain a two-hour film without making you feel that the filmmakers were obliged to cut out critical elements of the book, like desperate sea captains throwing any non-essentials overboard for the sake of making the boat stay afloat.  The 1996 film version by Franco Zeffirelli starring Charlotte Gainsbourgh as Jane and William Hurt as Rochester was, I thought, Zeffirelli’s best film since Romeo and Juliet.  I’m not sure if the same house was used in both films; the location for this film is uncannily similar to my recollection of the Zeffirelli version fifteen years ago.  It certainly felt to me as if this were some cinematic version of a battle-of-the-chefs show, in which two directors are given the same surprise central ingredient, in this case the same location.  As in one of those rare episodes when the novice chef upsets the master, in this case Fukanaga beats Zeffirelli hands-down.

The firmest whale bone in Fukanaga’s corset is the script by Moira Buffini, an enviable piece of taut writing and structure.  Equally strong is the cinematography; not a single shot is uncared for.  The entire visual treatment is as painstakingly crafted as an exquisite Old Master oil painting.  It is not surprising that Fukanaga is a former cinematographer.  Never before have I watched a film that gave me a truer sense of what it was like to live in a candle-lit world.  This is important because the threat of fire runs throughout Jane Eyre. Willfully or not, Fukanaga plays with the probability that the viewer is familiar with the story and knows what is going to happen, which makes the profuse candle flames unsettling and seductive all at once.  The daylight shots are equally striking: backlit flares of  sunlight provide Jane with appropriate halos in the right moments.  This is a costume drama in which the costumes take a back seat to the performances, the writing and the cinematography, and that’s a relief.

I don't know what it is about "Jane Eyre," but in every adaptation it's so much better than something labyrinthine like "Wuthering Heights."

The rapidly ascending Australian actress Mia Wasikowska does an admirable job of Jane, regardless of the fact there is nothing “plain” about her.  Jane’s unbeautifulness is the central point; it pays to remember that the book probably gave rise to the expression “plain Jane.”  Luckily, the script doesn’t dwell on it too much because whenever Mia-as-Jane complains about being plain, you feel that either she has been so brutalized as a child that her self-esteem has been irreparably damaged and warped, or that she’s fishing for compliments. Mia is certainly far more “comely,” as the Victorians said, than her rival, Miss Ingram, played by the unfortunately named Imogen Poots.  In the scene when Michael Fassbender states that both he and Mia are equally plain you feel a snort of derision coming on.  If that’s plain, then I’m plainer and the happier for it, Mr. Rochester.

Charlotte Gainsbourg in the Zeffirelli version. Look at the underbite, the diving-board chin, the fire-ladder neck. THAT is seductively plain.

All things considered, and the fact she is actually as beautiful as any contemporary fashion model, Mia held up admirably under the oppressive scorn of my preset opinion, which I carried into the theater like a macaw on my shoulder that screeched at me throughout the film: Charlotte Gainsbourg from the Zeffirelli version is the definitive Jane Eyre and nobody will ever replace her.  Even after the Fukanaga version, I still believe this.  Gainsbourg is the result of a fortuitous accident of genetic engineering, which made her the perfect actress for that role.  Hers was the D flawless diamond of casting coups, the sort of pre-production event that can cause a film to be made in the first place.  No other role will be as suitable for her, and nobody will ever fill that role as suitably.

Michael Fassbender.  Dude is amazing, the best of his age group out there right now, lengths ahead of the nearest competition. Fassbender is so smoldering hot in Jane Eyre that had I had a cocktail before watching it, my breath would have exploded in flames.  When Mia almost kisses him at one point, the repressed eroticism is so intense those Danish pastries she has coiled on her head start to puff up and strands of her hair go BOING! like overheated copper filaments.

Naturally, I want to do carnally unspeakable things to Fassbender, but most of all I want to be him.  He makes me want to have my hair back, even if it means having to buy shampoo again.

Speaking of bald, it was while reading up on the latest Mama Gaddafi news that I stumbled on someone I haven’t given much thought to in a while, my evil twin Andrew Sullivan.  Normally, I wouldn’t allow Sullivan that honor; I would be his evil twin.  But he is both a conservative Ghey and a practicing Catholic, and my wannabe Satan is just no match for that.

With regard to conservative Gheys, I draw your attention to a comment left on yesterday’s blog post by my virtual buddy Old Ancestor:

“I’m not so sure I can trust a log cabin republican. If you have to suppress your identity to the point that you have to be politically affiliated with people who want to kill you because Jesus said so, you must be a real self-loathing individual.”

To the denizens of Homolandia — OA is straight — this isn’t a new observation.  It’s one of those distasteful paradoxes we live with.  As I pointed out in my reply to OA, Log Cabin Repubes should really call themselves the Benedict Arnold Repubes, even though they seem to be the best organized of gay groups and have led the charge on the repeal of DODT.

The reason Sullivan and I are evil twins is not just because we are outspoken gay writers, but it appears we may have been separated at birth:

Me on the left, Andrew Sullivan on the right. I have, um, more relaxed facial hair, fuller lips and, um ... my nostrils are different.

I am three weeks older than Sullivan.  He is a passionate Irish Catholic, whereas I come from a long line of the dourest Protestant Scots-Irish, you know, the land-grabbing kind who lie low for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s amazing that these seemingly innocuous cultural distinctions carry over into the New World, but they do.

As ideologically disparate as we are, just because Sullivan is conservative and I am not doesn’t mean I’m liberal.  As I like to say, there is a two-party system in this country: good and evil.  And I back good, right the way down the line.

Our most glaring difference is most likely sexual position.  Given that what defines you as a Ghey is your sexuality, how you practice that sex is of paramount importance. I ordinarily wouldn’t go this far down the road in slamming someone, but Sullivan himself is so anti-PC, so virulently outspoken on the dumbest issues — Trig isn’t Sarah Palin’s child, but her daughter’s?  Oh, come on, Andrew: a vast majority of Down’s Syndrome babies are born to older mothers — and all that blithering conservative crap, that I think I’ll take the gloves off, smack the bitch up a bit by telling it like it is.

As an HIV-positive practicing Catholic, Sullivan is most likely a kinky bottom bitch. I, on the other hand, am that rarity in Homolandia: the absolute, uncompromising, militant, don’t-even-think-about-my-butt total top. How do I deduce this about Sullivan having not even met him, much less done the dirty with him?  As every homo knows, you are far more likely to get HIV as a bottom than as a top.   Basically, Sullivan took not one but probably several loads up the ass bareback in the mid-90s, of all times.  And how do I know he’s kinky?  He’s a practicing Catholic, and the more religious they are, the wilder in bed, in my fulsome experience.

Forget his HIV status, just the fact that Sullivan calls his blog “The Daily Dish” isn’t just screamin’-at-ya bottom bitch fagelah.  It’s dowager musty-lacey,  Garden of Good and Evil, antique-hoarding, balancing-a-Limoges-teacup-on-your-kneecap, screamin’-at-ya bottom bitch fagelah.

Lest anyone accuse me of sexism here, let me remind you that if it weren’t for the bottom bitches, I would have no sex life.  It’s just that I am as puzzled by them as a pimply, hormonal teenager is by bouncing, irrational cheerleaders.

The most graphic difference between me and Sullivan is not just bottom bitch vs. top stud, it's how we see ourselves, as manifest in the icons we choose for the banners of our respective blogs. Who would you rather party with, church-goer on the left, or dancing devil on the right?

What brought me to Andrew Sullivan today?  His ridiculous, lame-assed whining about intervention in Libya, made all the sillier because Sullivan isn’t some sheltered American conservative who doesn’t understand the European dynamic with Libya; he’s British.  He said:

“There are, it appears, only two reasons the US is going to war, without any Congressional vote, or any real public debate. The first is that the US cannot stand idly by while atrocities take place. Yet we have done nothing in Burma or the Congo …. Obama made no attempt to reconcile these inconsistencies because, one suspects, there is no rational reconciliation to be made.”

Sullivan is turning to the same argument liberals made when we wrongly invaded Iraq and is flipping it back on Obama.  Why did we go after Saddam and not other dictators and evil-doers?  The invasion of Iraq was just plain wrong across the board, we know that, no further comment on it is necessary.  Let’s just mop up the spilled oil and move on.  But Mama Gaddafi and the rebellion is another matter.  Why Libya and not Congo or Burma?  Andrew, dude, come on.  Congo?  Burma?  Congo is the setting for Heart of Darkness; why even consider wandering into that morass?  Let the Belgians take care of it, anyway, it’s a descendant of their mess.  And Burma is a totalitarian regime, not a dictatorship led by a single maniac.  If you argue intervention in Burma, then we should talk doing something about China as well.

Yes, it’s all about oil, Andrew, as it should be.  It’s at over $101 a barrel today.  No, we shouldn’t be so dependent on oil in the first place, but we are, Blanche, we are.  So why should it not be about oil?  We are a mercantile nation.  As Ayn Rand pointed out, the dollar sign is the monogram of US; i.e.,  Dollars R Us, baby.  While I personally loathe the idea of supporting that vast war machine of ours, as long as we are paying for it, we should use it to protect our economic interests, especially in this fragile climate.  If these were better times, I might be inclined to get on my ideological high horse and decry any military intervention, anywhere.  But in terms of the direct impact of the Arab Revolution on our lives in the West, what is happening in the oil-producing countries is more perilous to us than the nuclear meltdown in Japan.  We need to do the right thing: support the revolution sweeping the Islamic crescent because it is the only thing that will drag them out of their own private Middle Ages and into the present with us.  It is imperative we keep the region as stable as possible during a volatile time.

The analogy between the Arab Revolution and cooling several wayward nuclear reactors in meltdown is, I believe, apt.  It’s certainly not easy.  So settle down, Andrew, girl.  Pour yourself a cup of tea, throw the pooches a biscuit and stop fanning the flames just because it’s Obama taking a stand and not some noodle-brained conservative who tickles your sphincter.

Comments: 8

  • oldancestor March 20, 201111:01 am

    Now how can you compare yourself unfavorably to another writer? A review of Jane Eyre becomes a riff on Andrew Sullivan becomes a commentary on the necessity of selective righteousness in US foreign policy. Bravo.

    Hollywood always hires pretty people to play the unattractive, from Michele Pfieffer in Frankie and Johnny to Amanda Seyfreid as Megan Fox’s “ugly” friend in Jennifer’s Body. We’ll just take the screenwriter’s word for it that Mia Wasikowska is plain.

    Fassbender, AKA Ewan McGregor’s long lost brother, is brilliant. I love to watch him perform (get your mind out of the gutter, JK), and I’m into chicks.

    Your comment about each shot being carefully constructed is, to me, a sad commentary on the state of movies. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll talk about me:

    My intention as a writer, when I’m working on my latest never-to-be-published novel, is to choose each word as the prefect one amongst all the words that exist. No words wasted. Every word at once advancing the story, revealing the characters, layering meaning, and moving the reader. But that’s not what happens. What happens is I feel rushed and distracted and like I’m trying to cram whatever I can think of onto my hard drive so I can get the story out and then hurry off to do a thousand other things I want to do less than writing well. No wonder my stuff isn’t good. I don’t have time to be good.

    It should be a given that each shot of a film shows TLC, not that a good shot is a surprise worth mentioning. Of course, shoddy filmmaking has been around as long as good filmmaking, but now, it’s expected that most films will be sloppy rush jobs. Do today’s DPs and Directors not know the language of film, or are they so rushed and distracted all the time that each camera set-up is a cram-job that merely stands in the way of the next camera set-up? If I understand basic concepts like screen direction, I assume someboy who went to film school does as well, but I’m not so sure.

    “So how are we going to block this car chase scene, boss?”

    “Forget the blocking. Just shake the camera around.”

    How come you appear as if whatever you’re looking at is an object or person worthy of derision in a future blog post, while Sullivan looks as if he’s repressing lots and lots of Catholic shame and guilt?

    • James Killough March 20, 201112:40 pm

      The truth is, it’s rare to find a DP who understands narrative and the nuances of performance, who respects the actor’s craft. Most techies don’t know the actor’s language, they are disdainful of actors for numerous reasons, namely that they slow up production. For most DPs, an actor is a talking model. Many directors don’t work properly with actors, either; they literally direct by blocking and having the actor repeat the line several different ways until they find a version that will work in editorial and match up with another version. It’s the completely wrong approach if you want to achieve a performance that flows organically through a piece. Theater directors, who are the best at bringing out performance, are often uncomfortable with the single direction of the camera’s POV, and don’t know how to build a piece using chunks of images as opposed to the fluidity of movement on stage. It’s a very different discipline/way of looking at things. I believe matching great image with commensurate performance is an innate skill, either you have it or you don’t, and Fukanaga clearly does.

      In that picture I’m actually looking into the monitor on the first take of a film. My mouth is downturned; I am very unhappy with the production. My knuckles are white and Rain is holding my hand before I explode. I pull it together the next day. The trailer for that film is here:

      You shouldn’t give up with the novel writing. You have a very clear talent, and I’m not blowing smoke up your ass; I would simply not say anything if I weren’t sure of what I’m saying. All writers have a lot of crap to write out of them before they are ready. I don’t know when you started writing, but you are quite right about time. As Malcolm Gladwell states, we need 10,000 hours at something to be any good. There is no way around this. I myself just got into the novel business. Like many film writers, for many years I didn’t think I could pull off a book. The word almost all of us use is “daunting.” A script is really no more than a long short story, chopped up into sparse action commands and trimmed dialogue. A novel is a whole other lavish banquet, at which sushi isn’t welcome.

      The publishing business is reinventing itself, trying to find where it will go in this age. I believe the dust will settle within the next year. Also, it pays to remember who your reader is, just as filmmakers must be aware of their audience. In general, men write from a man’s POV, but men tend not to read fiction, if they read at all. So you might try writing for women, or more inclined towards women, like Franzen.

  • oldancestor March 20, 20116:23 pm

    I’ve been writing for women for three years and running into, “Your prose is good but I can’t sell this,” or “This is well written but your main character is unappealing.” Yeah, she’s not what’s her name from Sex in the City. She actually has this thing called a character arc, where she starts out… ah never mind. Women like their chick fiction stripped of anything resembling satire.

    I’m thinking of doing a horror/sci-fi concept. It’s a define niche and this idea is filmable.

    I think I know what you mean about about some DPs and directors who frame for editing and not for performance (Michael Bay, Zack Snyder). There may be another set that truly does not give a crap about whether people watching can follow the action, because they constantly break screen direction, with actors eyes aiming the wrong way. And when the action happens, it’s time to start shaking the camera around to cover up for the pitiful staging. It’s like someone gave Lloyd Kaufman 80 million dollars to make a movie.

    • James Killough March 20, 20119:51 pm

      Hmmm. Not sure what to advise you here except to keep at it. To be honest, I don’t even comment on the rejections, just the acceptances. I get so many rejections all the time, for various reasons. As a producer of mine says, “You make it and then they all climb on board.” Sure, try the genre piece. It’s not like we do this for the money, anyway.

  • oldancestor March 20, 20116:28 pm

    Just watched the trailer for Losing Her. I like the dreaming quality and the fluid camera work. Not a shaky cam in sight.

    Is it available to be watched in its entirety?

    • James Killough March 20, 20119:41 pm

      Yeah, on DVD. I have it. Not sure how to distribute it. I’ll figure it out.

  • oldancestor March 21, 201111:11 am

    Don’t feel pressured to come up with advice. Either it happens or it doesn’t.

    I look forward to seeing the film when it’s available.

    • James Killough March 21, 201112:33 pm

      I don’t feel pressured to do anything, unless there’s a deadline and money involved. I would like to help if I can. I’m just entering the book world myself, can’t say more than that right now. But I’ll keep you posted.

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