Zombie Watch! Part 3

There is no doubt about it, Deadgirl is a very disturbing movie and one that I can’t recommend to most people. However, I am glad I watched it and I think that the movie points out some of the troubling ways that women are often objectified in movies.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me say that yes, this is a movie about a group of high school teenager’s who find a naked zombie woman and keep her to rape and mutilate. Yes, there are scenes of stomach-churning violence and sexuality. Yes, the movie is unpleasant and the characters move beyond the typical Hollywood psychotic and into the realm of truly vile. Deadgirl is not really a horror movie, but it is a horrific movie.

If you read the internet reactions, you’ll find about half of the people think that this is one of the most obscene movies they’ve ever seen and half think it’s brilliant. You’ll also find a strongly felt divide between those who think the movie actually works as a feminist text and those who think that the movie is an excuse for showing the rape and brutal objectification of women.

My take? That Deadgirl is an indictment of the ways in which women are objectified in typical Hollywood movies. The key to this indictment is not in the figure of the zombie herself, nor is it in the fact that all of the teens who actually do abuse her end up dead. The key lies in the figure of the “conflicted” male character of Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez). Rickie is the closest thing the movie has to a hero, and probably the character most likely for the viewer to identify with. The filmmakers, I believe, are aware of this and so construct a character who we can see as struggling to do the right thing. Because our options of characters to identify with are limited, he’s the best we have. Besides, he’s trying, isn’t he? Both to figure a way out of the moral conundrum he finds himself in (we are given to believe that if the woman wasn’t dead already, he would have done the right thing and helped her), and to reconnect to the love of his life, the girl who he shared his first kiss with, JoAnn.

Without going into spoilerland, let me just say that it is Rickie’s objectification of JoAnn—and thus the viewer’s objectification of JoAnn—that is central to the movie’s feminist objectives. How many times have we seen the outcast looking on as a kind, gentle, and beautiful woman dates the obnoxious jerk instead of realizing that she should be with our outcast hero? How many movies hinge on the protagonist watching the object of his affection? How many movies take it as accepted that even if the protagonist spends no time talking or spending time with the object of his affection, his love is somehow pure and honest and real rather than a figment of his own imagination and, in the end, kinda creepy?

What Deadgirl does is take just such a natural filmic construction and turn it around so that the viewer is forced to recognize that Rickie objectifies JoAnn in much the same way as the dead girl is objectified by the other characters. The difference between Rickie and J.T. is one of mis en scene and style rather than morality.

I would also add that the way the dead girl’s body is shot is not typical of Hollywood nudity and is not sensual or sexy in the least. I find it hard to believe that anyone without serious issues would find her body or the sex that happened to her body in the least arousing.

Deadgirl, no matter its agenda or how you feel about its gender politics, is a disturbing movie that will leave you with an empty, haunted feeling in your gut and a bitter taste in your mouth. Very much not a fun zombie movie.

If you have thoughts, I would really love to hear them. Either in the comments or use the contact page to get in touch and share what you think about this movie if you’ve actually watched it. More that most, this is a movie that deserves to be discussed.

Zombie Watch! Part 2

Wherein Erin & I watch 4 George Romero films in one night . . .

That’s right, suckas, 4 Romero zombie flicks in one night. It was zombietastic: good company, good margaritas, good pizza and delicious molten brownies. As for the films? We watched Night of the Living Dead, the 30 Anniversary Edition, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, and Diary of the Dead. All of them were fun to watch in different ways, none of them are brilliant films, but if you are interested in the genre, Romero’s work is almost required viewing to get a sense of how the current zombie mythology and movie structure began.

Night of the Living Dead, 30th Anniversary Edition

At no point should you ever watch the lame-ass 30th Anniversary remake. John Russo, who co-wrote the original screenplay of Night of the Living Dead shot additional footage and cut it into and around the original. These scene are, and I’m being generous here, incredibly stupid in a mind-bogglingly, poorly written and acted and shot way that makes you want to hit your head against a hard wall as you cry out “what the hell was John Russo thinking!?”

John A. Russo gets a giant FAIL for this travesty.

However, all the bits in between his crappy scenes and beneath the uninteresting score, were enough to show that even though the movie may have lost some of its shock value, Romero’s original film still has quite a bit of life in it. I’m planning on watching the original original in the next week or so and will get back to you on the particulars of that movie but do yourself a favor, skip this version.

Day of the Dead

Ah, the mid-Eighties fashion sense and the electric drums and synth heavy soundtrack! Remarkably unremarkable characters except for the Jamaican helicopter pilot and Bub.

Bub, the zombie.

Bub, the zombie who likes music, salutes at a military man and learns how to use a gun. Yeah, you read right, a zombie packing heat. Bub is reason enough to watch this movie because it’s the first time that we see a zombie starting to think and, more importantly, becoming a character that the audience might sympathize or even identify with. In fact, considering just how much you end up hating the military commander, you actually end up rooting for Bub in the final showdown. Romero has always been interested in zombies as a twisted, carnival mirror reflection of ourselves. Day of the Dead amps up the human evil to an even higher level, making you root for the zombies to punish the bad humans. In some ways this turn around is interesting, but the movie ends up saving the few “good” people and destroying all the “bad” people, thus giving the movie a blandly moralistic tone that seems out of place in the Romero world.

This is the kind of movie you watch with other people and have fun making fun of it as it plays. There’s some fairly grotesque gore, however, so be warned: you will see intestines falling out of bodies and some intense flesh eating scenes.

Land of the Dead

Packed with bigger name stars than any other Romero movie (Simon Jones, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, Dennis Hopper), Land of the Dead is far more action oriented than his previous ventures. Taking place 20 or so years after the zombie apocalypse, we see a city stratified into a few rich folk safe and secure and lots of poor folk eeking out a living by going on sorties into the countryside and bringing back goods from zombie infested towns. Of course Dennis Hopper is the rich muthafucka who runs the place and is only looking out for his own well being. After a bunch of humans take on some zombies, however, Romero offers up a kind of undead Braveheart storyline that focuses on one of the zombies who gets smarter than the average zombie and leads a jerking, twitching, groaning, and very hungry zombie army against the fortified city. A descendent of Bub perhaps?

Great zombie make up and some fun one liners from Simon Jones and company, but the shift in genre from horror to action and the overt and heavy-handed statements about rich and poor obliterate any chance of subtlety or character development. Whereas in Night of the Living Dead you become invested in the characters of Ben and Barbra, by the time Land of the Dead comes around, you almost don’t care if any of the humans survive because there is not much there there.

Diary of the Dead

Shot almost entirely in first person, the basic conceit of this movie is a young filmmaker who is determined to record as much of the apocalypse as possible, even at the expense of his own humanity. While some critics complained that nobody would keep recording through some of the situations that occur in the movie, I disagree and completely accept the plausibility that a young film student could become obsessed with documenting an apocalypse, even at the expense of other people’s safety and being a good person. I mean, have you met any film students? Self-involvement is a requirement.

This is one of the movies that you watch and think to yourself afterwards, I liked that. Kinda cool. Not what I expected. But then, a couple of days later, you realize that, while it wasn’t a bad movie, it was fairly vapid. I feel like Romero was so taken with the commentary about video and observation and new technology that he forgot to take the time to create compelling characters that would pull the audience into the lives and stories of these people. There was no real risk or sense of danger to the movie because we didn’t care about anyone. Worth seeing – certainly more than Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, but only if you keep expectations low and just enjoy the stylistic differences and challenges of telling a story in first person.

Overall Impressions

Tool use: With the exception of Diary of the Dead, there was a surprising amount of tool use by zombies, going back all the way to the beginning in Night of the Living Dead when several zombies break through glass by picking up rocks and throwing them. Of course, this culminated in both Day and Land with zombies that use guns.

We are Them, They are Us: For Romero, these stories have never been just about scary dead people coming for us. Rather, the zombies serve as an external force that reveals just how dangerous humans can be toward each other. A profound pessimism undergirds these movies, a philosophy that seems to trust humans to only do one thing: screw each other and themselves over. The zombies could be space aliens, or some form disease, or a natural disaster (and, in one way or another, they are all of these and more) because while the zombies are the yummy, worm-ridden, decomposing frosting on the cake, in Romero films, they are not the cake itself.

Creep Factor: I would still place Night of the Living Dead at the top when it comes to creep factor. Sure, it was black and white and sure some of the zombies looked like they were just badly lit extras walking really slowly, but there were enough good zombies moving in herky-jerky and unnatural ways that you get creeped out. The slow but inexorable accretion of the undead coming through the night, coming for to eat you as well as the claustrophobia of being trapped in a house remains more horrifying that even the more contemporary Diary of the Dead, with it’s RVs and guns and Panic Rooms. Then again, neither Day or Land are proper horror films to being with, despite the threat of zombies, and I think the biggest mistake in approaching Romero’s work would be to see every one of his zombie films as belonging to the same genre. Unless, of course, you posit Zombie movie as it’s own genre instead of a sub-genre of horror, which seems to me to be a plausible argument.

There you have it. Four zombie movies by the master of the zombie genre in one night. Fun times and thanks to Erin for being my zombie movie buddy!

Next up on Zombie Watch!, the very not fun movie Deadgirl.

Zombie Watch! Part 1

Because I’m going to be submitting a dissertation proposal that involves zombies as part of my application to the University of Hawaii Department of Theatre’s Ph.D. program, I’ve started watching a bunch of zombie movies that I’ve been meaning to see. Now, my proposal doesn’t look at zombies in film per se because I’m more interested in comparing the phenomenology of performing zombie-hood with the Japanese performance/dance form of Butoh. Still working on the details of that . . . but in the meantime I figure it can’t hurt to watch some zombie movies.

Friday Night: Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead

I really, really like Sarah Polley and have liked Jake Weber since his work in American Gothic. That afternoon I had read an academic article that dealt with this movie and had hopes that it would be taut, suspenseful, and scary.

Meh.

I wasn’t scared, though there were a few moments of intensity and suspense. I didn’t really care about the characters despite liking some of the actors, and, while almost all zombie movies contain some paint-by-numbers elements, this film felt like someone simply ticking off a checklist of story elements with no real passion or finesse. There wasn’t much more than a token attempt at any kind of real character development, and even that felt half-assed. It did cross my mind that maybe I wasn’t scared because I was watching in on my computer. But I watched Dead Set on my computer and was completely freaked the frak out by that series, so I know that genuinely scary writing, compelling characters, and suspenseful filmmaking can translate to a good thrill-on even when watching on my Mac.

Ultimately, a movie as empty and vacuous as the mall that the characters hide out in for most of the time.

Saturday Night: Night of the Living Dead (the 1990 remake)

Again, a protagonist played by an actor I like with Patricia Tallman stepping into the role of Barbara and actually surviving the night. The zombies were of the classic, slow moving kind and there is something far creepier about slow zombies. They may not have the flash and initial fear factor of the fast ones, but their very slowness, their very inevitability is settle into the pit of your stomach scary.

But my god, there as a lot of nailing in this movie. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about nailing up boards over windows. Felt like it went on for nearly half the movie as characters scurried around the house nailing doors and pieces of wood over windows. There must have been something like 20 windows in that place!

Overall a bit creepier than Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and I liked the ending quite a bit, but the acting was certainly on the B movie side of things, the conflict between Ben and Harry seemed forced—as if the characters were there to simply serve a points of conflict instead of having the conflict arise from the characters—, and the pacing was a bit slow at times. Certainly worth watching as an interesting remake that has a few fun twists, but it won’t knock your socks off.

What I have noticed after watching both of these movies is that even if I don’t think the movie is all that good, zombie flicks are good for giving me very vivid and action packed dreams!

That’s it for the first installment of Zombie Watch. A friend is visiting tonight and we are going to have a zombiefest and see if we can get through Romero’s oeuvre in one night as I have Night, Dawn, Day, Land, and Diary of the Dead cued up and ready to lumber. We may not make it through them all tonight, but I’ll give you an update on my thoughts tomorrow on the ones we do manage to get through.

Remember, aim for the head.

300 Words for 30 Days Writing Challenge Conclusion

InkQuill

I just finished up the second writing challenge that I’ve set myself since July. I found I wasn’t quite as focused on The Devious Astroblabe but the upside of that is that I now have first drafts of two new short stories. My total word count came to 13,414 with my daily average being 447 words. This brings my total word count for creative writing since July 13 to 22,659.

I have been letting slide a couple of older stories that I need to do rewrites on, so I’m going to try to get some editing work done this coming week since I am giving myself the week off from having to write fiction. My next challenge is going to be 400 Words for 40 Days. Of course, that won’t be the only writing I’ll be doing this fall: I have edits and research to do on an essay being published in a book about Feminism and the figure of Ripley in the Alien films, I need to research and write a Dissertation proposal for the University of Hawaii, as well as a number of personal statements and other requirements for my applications to PhD programs, including a play analysis and a statement of directing philosophy. However, it’s important to me that I gain practice with regular fiction writing even when I have a lot of other stuff going on because when I do get into a PhD program, I want to remain committed to my fiction writing, even if it is only 300 – 500 words per day (which is, all things told, not that many words to commit to, even when busy).

How’s your writing going? Do you have any tips or tricks you can share? Drop me a comment if you want to share.

A Wonderful Story About Books

If you love books, there are certain stories about books that will catch your heart, steal your breath, and make your head spin a bit as you hold back (or not) tears of joy.

If you love books and love stories about books, then I recommend you take some time in the next couple of days and head over to Escape Pod and listen to Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan. If you would rather read it, you can do so at the author’s website. Heck, no need to make a choice between the two, you can do both. But I have to say that Steve Eley’s reading of the story, his obvious love of story and creation, and the fact that Sloans’s story has a deep and profound meaning for Eley, brings an extra bit of frisson to the tale.

If you enjoy the story, share it with someone else because the only way stories really live is if we continually help them find new life inside new minds.

To Robin Sloan for writing this story and to EscapePod for running it, I’d simply like to say:

Thank you.

Simple Remembrance

I saw this on Ze Frank’s twitter feed today and think it is probably the simplest and yet powerful reflection on today’s date that I have yet seen. Probably because it allows you to put your own thoughts and memories onto it:

..II..

My own thoughts? Hug someone you love, or tell someone you care.

Be good to each other.

Terminal Hacks I Can’t Live Without

I use Safari. I have Firefox downloaded and available for those times when something doesn’t work in Safari, but that’s become less and less necessary over the past year. However, I can’t stand the way that Safari opens new window after new window instead of defaulting to simply opening a new tab. That’s what the damn tabs are there for!

For a while I was using SafariStand to switch Safari’s behavior, but it was a hack, and would often be broken with a new update to Safari and almost inevitably broken with an operating system upgrade. So, the first thing I did when I installed Snow Leopard, well nearly the first thing, was to open up the Terminal and enter this:

defaults write com.apple.Safari TargetedClicksCreateTabs -bool true

Then hit the return key, close Terminal, and open up Safari to it’s new and well mannered behavior. There are other ways to activate this through programs like Cocktail, but if you want Safari to behave itself and stop opening window after window after window, all you need is that one command. If you decide you like Safari the stupid way, you simply open up Terminal again, enter the same command but replace the word “true” with the word “false” and you’ll be back to normal.

~~~

With Snow Leopard’s redesign of the dock menus, I found I prefer seeing the dock in the 2d version, even when keeping it on the bottom of my screen. Mostly because then the dock and the dock menus actually match. I know, I know, me and my aesthetic sensibilities. There’s no simple switch modes in OS X (though there should be, silly Apple) and again, if you have a program like Cocktail you can enable the dock in 2d mode. Once again, however, there is a simple Terminal command that will help us out:

Enter the following:

defaults write com.apple.dock no-glass -boolean YES

hit the return key, then type “killall Dock” (all that is doing is shutting down the dock, which then automatically opens again with the change applied) and return. Once again, if you want to go back to the 3d Dock, simply replace the “YES” with “N0.”

This is basic stuff for some, but I know a lot of Mac users who have never opened up the Terminal. While you always want to be very careful when you do use the Terminal, especially if you aren’t an actual Unix program and don’t really know what you are doing, finding a few of these kinds of commands can make your working environment a bit more suited to how you want to work and not necessarily how Steve Jobs thinks you want to work.

A good source for finding tips like these and other tricks and customizations for the Mac is at MacOSXHints, which is where I got both of these Terminal commands.

Dropbox and You

Lately I’ve been using Dropbox as a place to store backups of stories and other writing projects. I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my workflow and why you should look into the free account with Dropbox. Of course different media require different back-up strategies and a free 2 gigabyte account is not necessarily going to be the best solution for backing up your photos or your music, but for a writer who wants to protect their work, Dropbox is an excellent way to make off-site backups.

There are any number of ways to create regular backups of your computer, but as any writer or student whose hard drive has crashed with all of their recent work could tell you, the trick is to make sure your backups are a) up-to-date and b) easily recoverable. Additionally, backing up to cd or another drive won’t help if something happens to your apartment or home. Having an off-site backup is important, even if the odds are agains you ever needing it. All it takes is one fire, or one hurricane, or one tornado, or one flood to make you really wish you had your writing somewhere safe from disaster. I’m not going to bore you with all my various strategies for backing up, but I am starting to rely more and more on Dropbox as the place where I keep my currently active writing projects.

First of all, though, what is Dropbox? Basically it’s an online backup and file-sharing solution that you install on your computer (Windows, Mac or Linux).1 The installation creates a folder on your computer that you can then use like you do any other folder. However, the folder will, invisibly and with no need to perform any complicated set up, back itself up to Dropbox’s servers whenever anything in the folder changes. For any of you working on multiple computers, what this means is that you can have one folder that is continually synced across a number of computers and different operating systems. For some, that is the primary reason to get Dropbox.

However, if you are like me and do most of your work on one computer, what this means is that you can have instant and continual off-site backup of your important documents. Because the folder resides on your computer you don’t have to go out to the web to retrieve any of the documents inside your Dropbox folder, which means that you don’t have to be connected to the internet to access your files. However, after making even the slightest change to your document and saving, the file will auto-magically sync itself to the server version whenever your computer is connected. Even better, it does the sync incrementally, so instead of uploading the entire file again, it only uploads the changes to that file. Even even better, Dropbox’s servers take a snapshot of each document before making changes, so if you realize that the changes you made yesterday to your story were really stupid changes, and you don’t have any other local versions, you can go to Dropbox’s web interface and retrieve previous versions.2

For the writer, there are two ways you could use Dropbox most effectively. The first, is simple use the folder as the home for all your current projects. That way, if something happens to your computer you know that all your latest work is backed up and easily accessible via another computer that you authorize with your account or through the web interface. Sure, 2 gigabytes doesn’t sound like a lot (and you can always pay for more if you need it), but you’ll be surprised just how much text can fit in that kind of space. If you are a student, you could probably fit years and years worth of papers into those 2 gb. This solution is probably best for those who keep their writing projects in discreet files and folders, however there are some of us who use programs like Scrivener as their primary writing tool and because these programs actually save dozens or even hundreds of small documents in a bundle, working directly out of the Dropbox folder can be problematic.

I’m lucky, because my program of choice, Scrivener, actually has a simply backup command what will put my whole project into a zip file and save it in any folder I choose. So lately I’ve been creating the habit of selecting that command whenever I finish working on a project. I figure that maybe once a month I’ll cull the folder from some of the older backups, but in the meantime, I just backup and enjoy the knowledge that even if something happens to my computer or my Time Machine disk or my regularly updated disk clone that I could still get access to the stories and projects I’m currently working on. Additionally, I may, on of these days, get around to creating an Automator action that will regularly zip certain folders and then place the zip file in my Dropbox folder.

If you aren’t working with huge amounts of research and with programs like Scrivener, I would suggest just saving all your documents to your Dropbox folder and feeling secure that you have a safe and up-to-date backup of your current or most important work . . . and all without giving it a second thought. Having a strategy like this is especially important if you have only one computer and don’t really pay attention to backing up on a regular basis (ahem – yes, I’m looking at you).

Go over to the Dropbox website and check it out, look at the tour and check out the video presentation. If you decide to sign up and you use this link to do so you’ll actually get both of us an additional 250 mb of storage space but I’m not posting this to get people signing up under my account (though it would be nice). I think there are a few of my friends and acquaintances out there who could use this service and save themselves some possible headaches down the line.

If you have thoughts about Dropbox or backing up documents in general, I’d love to read them, so drop a comment if you have the time.

  1. I’m not going to talk about the sharing features here, since my interest in the services is mostly as a document backup solution, however, the sharing features are pretty nifty if you are working with other people on a project. []
  2. This is not meant to be a replacement for other versioning strategies, but it is a nice benefit. []