Vintage Movie Monday: Dirty Dancing (1987)

Yesterday, while recovering from our exhausting but fun weekend at Wizard World Philly, Josh said the magic words to me: “I want to watch a movie from the 80s.  Like Dirty Dancing.”

Done and done!  DD is my hands-down, all-time favorite movie of ever, and I will always watch it.  Always.  From the era when, around 8 or 9 years old, I wore out our VHS copy watching it every week, to the time my college beffie bought it for me at Blockbuster because I was having a crappy week during freshman year, this movie owns my heart.

Rewatching it now, I’m surprised how well it stands up.  The plot is logical, the class issues are subtle yet effectively handled, and some of the most dramatic parts — like Penny’s illegal abortion — are given an excellent less-is-more treatment.  Better still, the soundtrack, equal parts 60s gems and 80s power ballads, actually works better now that nostalgia for both decades has set in.

Josh and I are notoriously difficult-to-please movie fans, but the only thing we took issue with was the unclear timeline.  Does the movie really happen in the last 3 weeks of the summer?

In the days of So You Think You Can Dance, the choreo in the final scene seems a little lackluster, but it’s executed well, and the sense of sheer fun still shines through.  The epic romance of it does too.  I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be lifted by 1980s Patrick Swayze?

Finally, here’s some random trivia for you: So You Think You Can Dance‘s resident disco choreographer, Doriana Sanchez, appears as a dirty dancer in the film.  Look for her in the polka-dot dress!

King Solomon’s Mines, Homosocial Male Bonding, and the Possibilities of Masculine Identity

What a difference a big budget film makes.

Earlier this semester, I Netflixed the classic 1950 film version of King Solomon’s Mines, for an article I was working on for The Film League.  I found it fascinating:  an imperial English love story set against the backdrop of Africa, using real Africans and footage of real safaris.  I also found it problematic in all the usual ways: an imperialist period piece using the legacy of imperialism to gain footage of “exotic” Africans, which in turn could spice up the otherwise ho-hum white, heterosexual love story, which itself uses Africa and Africans as both catalyst and afterthought.

Actually reading the book for my Victorian lit class was quite a different endeavor, even moreso than I initially imagined it would be.  For one thing, the love story is totally fabricated.  The novel actually follows three men into the wilds of Africa in search one’s lost brother (and the treasure).  This isn’t to say that the book doesn’t rehash another white person love story; instead, the “love” is the homosocial bond between the three men, who all represent various points on a spectrum of masculinity.  (I kept thinking about the male identity-trinity from Star Trek: The Original Series as reference point.)  Haggard rather self-consciously sets the three up as positive masculine role models, each representing several different possible masculine expressions from which his boy readers could choose.

The novel is famously free from any “petticoats,” narrator Allan Quatermain’s metonymically reductive description of white women.  Much as been written about the treasure map representing the female body to be penetrated (like Africa), and the terrifying depictions of African female identity.  But somehow — and this rarely happens — I find myself much more interested in Haggard’s strange masculinity project, and what it meant for Victorian ideas of manhood, and why on earth this was deemed unsuitable for a blockbuster film adaptation.

I don’t have any answers to those questions or problems, but they’re sticking in my mind, along with several others.  Why such vitriol against women?  Why reconstitute the family as homosocial male bonding mechanism in the final pages of the novel?  And why has this story above so many others stayed in our pop culture consciousness and been replayed over and over again?

Hocus Pocus was really formative for me

Halloween is among my favorite holidays, and not because I love to dress up.  I have a deep and abiding passion for the monstrous, the creepy, and the outright terrifying.  Nothing makes me happier than to spend October curled up with the scariest books and movies I can find.

Previous years’ favorites have included Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” this true life account of a night in a haunted house from Southern Literary Messenger, “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” and “The Wrong Grave” by Kelly Link, John Polidori’s “The Vampyre,” Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, silly/sublime tv show The Vampire Diaries, Neil Gaiman’s “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire” and The Graveyard Book, and Guillermo del Toro’s tremendous film El Espinazo del Diablo, just to choose a few.

It’s been rough trying to squeeze in a month’s worth of horror between classes and work, but I’ve still managed to dip into a few things.  So what am I loving this year?

The Wolfman, which is an enjoyable remake of the 1941 original that deposits all of our contemporary quirks and weirdnesses on the Victorian setting. I liked it primarily because I always like stories in which the supernatural gets all up in your science and rationality and sends it straight to hell.

Edith Wharton’s After Holbein.  Okay, I’m not done reading this yet, but Wharton is big around Skinny House these days, so we’re including it.

The Halloween episode of Community, quite possibly my new favorite episode of the show. Star Trek + zombies = forever win.

(And I will tell you what I did not love: Jennifer’s Body.  I was ready for the feminist horror to film to end all horror films, a complete revolution in the genre, and the positing of ultimate female power, finally, at last.  Instead I got a lurid display of female jealousy and the same old chicks-are-totally-crazy bullshit.  Serious disappointment, to say the least.)

And now that we’ve carved pumpkins and gotten a taste of serious autumn chill, we’re ready for trick-or-treaters and then the rapid descent into winter depression.

But first!  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention All Hallows Read, a new tradition in the making, in which we all give each other spooky books on or around October 31.  I gave my mom The Graveyard Book this year, but as it’s my signed first edition, I’ll be asking for it back.  Still, I think this could be much fun in the years to come.  (Don’t know if you could tell, but I can never get enough of sharing scary books.)

Happy Halloween, y’all!