This week I caught up on Twilight. I actually had a lot of feelings about the first one, but neither of the sequels hit me as hard, probably because all the convoluted plot got in the way of staring longingly and teenage lust.
I also saw two other movies that don’t have anything do to with Twilight. I put those first because probably anyone who cares about the Twlight movies has formed opinions about them by now.
- Lola Montes (Max Ophuls, 1955): The story of Lola Montes is that Lola appears in a very risky nightly circus performance, where the subject of the performance is her own scandalous life. According to reliable source wikipedia, she did appear in a play about her life in America in the 1850s, but I’m sure it was not as overwrought and overdesigned as the one Ophuls stages. There is a lot going on here. She’s at the centre of this intricate performance and the ring master shouts at the audience (both the audience in the circus and the audience watching the movie), half enticing, half accusing. The whole thing is a bit intricate and cold, with all these overwrought set pieces doing a lot of the heavy lifting of atmosphere, every frame crammed full of things that mean about 800 different things – so of course I loved it. Imagine if Moulin Rouge was about a real lady and not a post-musical and you kind of start to get the idea.
We get her life story – an extraordinary one, full of scandals and affairs with notable men including Franz Liszt and the King of Bavaria – in flashbacks. What I love about the movie is that Lola is stone cold. It’s not that she’s not sad when her affairs end, but in the end she always just peaces out in her own carriage. Apparently Andrew Sarris said this was the best movie of all time.
- X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011): While not ignoring the movies failures in terms of gender and race, on the balance I have to say I liked X-Men: First Class. I’m not in any way a longstanding X-Men fan, only really knowing a couple of the (pretty bad) recent movies and the (pretty great) 1990s cartoon series. It definitely didn’t get things totally right, but I feel like it did at least one thing very well. Superhero movies are about a lot of things – but fundamentally they’re about morality (no really). The best ones in recent years seem to play both sides politically (think The Dark Knight or the first Iron Man) but all kind of play at the complexities of having this one really rich guy be an extra-legal arbiter of right and wrong. X-Men follows along: it’s about a superhero team again, but led by ultra-rich Oxford PhD Charles Xavier. But what they do in this movie that really makes it special is: they actually give the villain an ultra-credible set of motivations. A set of motivations based on distrust of authority and society to deal well with difference that is very easy to understand for anyone who’s spent really any time in social justice circles. I mean, he does kill some people, but they are all Nazis so it’s understandable?
The other interesting character was Raven/Mystique – I kind of wish she’d been given more to do, as a superhero, but her whole story of shifting allegiances and figuring herself out through boys – boys who want to hide, boys who want to change themselves, and boys who want acceptance – it was really smart and good and Jennifer Lawrence was wonderful.
- Twilight: New Moon (Chris Weitz, 2009): I think the silliest part of the Twilight movies is how convoluted they are. The first one is basically, there are some good vampires and some bad vampires and then Bella wants to have sex with Edward but that’s wrong because Joseph Smith says it’s a man’s responsibility to protect ladies from sensual desires. But the second two films develop this really complicated vampire cabal, led by Michael Sheen, in Italy who rule over the vampire race and keep them from running amok and making humans aware of their existence? I don’t think it’s a coincidence in the whole crypto-Mormon thing that their rivals in vampire governance are in a cathedral in Italy.1 (My significant other thought it was pretty funny that Tony Blair is the vampire pope.) Also it turns out the local First Nations band? Are, um, werewolves. Like, they were descended from wolves. And all the vampires talk about their “wet dog smell”. I’m sure this has been commented on in the past, but really? No one told Stephanie Meyer this might be problematic? And the werewolves have a treaty with the good vampires? But the treaty’s not in effect when the good vampires aren’t around so they have to protect Bella from the bad vampires? Because Edward broke up with Bella to protect her? But then the bad vampires aren’t much of a problem because Bella has to go to Italy to save Edward from killing himself (because he thought she was dead, because she jumped off a cliff but it was just for fun and then she almost died but one of the werewolves saved her)? Just like Romeo and Juliet? But luckily she stops him? And then the vampire pope almost kills Bella because she knows too much? And then Edwards marble-like skin cracks as he’s fighting to protect her? And then the vampire pope doesn’t kill Bella because Edward’s psychic sister Alice foresees that Bella will become a vampire? So it’s okay then? And then the Cullens vote to make Bella a vampire? And Jacob gets mad because he loves Bella? And then Edward asks her to marry him? I’ve also totally skipped the part how Bella rides motorcycles to give herself visions of Edward. I took so many screenshots while I was watching this movie.
Can I just note that Bella has cropped herself out of this picture? SHE HAS CROPPED HERSELF OUT. Let us think on this.
The scene where Edward breaks up with her is totally the greatest. It’s done in a standard shot-reverse shot format, except Bella’s half of the scene the camera gets increasingly canted and moves around nauseously as she realizes that Edward’s breaking up with her.
I don’t know if it’s clear, but this woman has a scar from her werewolf fiance freaking out and she has not broken up with him.
- Twilight: Eclipse (David Slade, 2010): Oh my god. Now I understand why feminists hate Twilight so much. This is the first movie where we really spend a lot of time with Edward and Bella in their relationship and it is horrifying. Why is he constantly pressuring his high school girlfriend to marry him? As a bargaining chip to be exchanged for him agreeing to support her (just awful, really sad) life choices? If it wasn’t clear enough that what they are really arguing about is whether or not they should bone, they have a scene where Bella’s like “Let’s bone then” and he’s all like “Not til we’re married!” And he of manipulates her into leaving town for a weekend and lies to her about why. And Edward is supposedly really sad that Bella wants to be his vampire wife since it seems like a horrible life – but then he is insanely jealous of her friendship with Jacob and flaunts their relationship and makes sure Jacob overhears him talking about their engagement. Jacob is not much better; he’s a really horrible friend in that he’s constantly trying to force his feelings on her and at one point actually kisses her without her consent? And then is like “I won’t kiss you again, until you ask me, but I won’t cease in my aggressive romantic pursuit, because I am better for you than your current boyfriend and you are obviously incapable of making that decision.” I mean, he actually is, but if not being a creepy vampire is your bar so is everyone ever. Obviously the gender politics of the other two films are not great, but this is the first one where it gets actually bizarre. The whole thing where she wants to turn into a vampire like it’s just a thing to do gets at what is so totally lacking from the Twilight stories that made Buffy so great: moral hazard. Angel was a good vampire, but his monstrousness was always there under the surface; Oz was a good werewolf, but he had to lock himself up every full moon and work really hard to learn to control his wolfishness. But the Cullens really don’t seem to have any problem controlling themselves at all, except for in one scene when it’s dramatically convenient. (Jasper can’t restrain himself from lunging at Bella when she gets a papercut in the last movie, but in this one he’s in charge of this elaborate plan where she puts her blood everywhere to lure these other vampires to her?) As I’ve said, they’re sort of crypto-Mormon. Except better, because they abstain from the ultimate hot drink…human blood! I’m making jokes because it is really hard to talk about these movies seriously or say anything that hasn’t already been said. While the third movie really ramps up the horrifying approach to women, it is actually way better as a movie than the second. Twilight is at its best when it’s about teenage passion and how uncomfortable it is, and in between the ridiculous action sequences it’s all Bella trying to bone Edward and feeling awkward and guilty about it – but mostly just wanting to bone him. Oh, and Bella having conflicted feelings about Jacob and then kissing him while Edward can psychically read his thoughts. (“His thoughts were pretty loud.”)
I’m not sure why they are kissing on a Lisa Frank binder?
I’m not sure if this is common knowledge but the LDS church is pretty down on Catholicism. ↩