Red Riding Hood-the film: More than just a slutty Twilight?

This year will see yet another adaptation of a classic tale: Red Riding Hood-the film.(And this time it’s personal.)

Directed by Twilight director Catherine Hardwick, the film seems to be another story of a young female’s rite of passage, spiced up by some supernatural encounters to serve as metaphors about personal and sexual awakening. Although it did give me some excitement in terms of another post-feminist image of the gothic heroine, a second look at the trailer and a screenshot analysis by Stuart Heritage in the Guardian made me reconsider.

Although the concept of a new take of Red Riding Hood might have some cultural value, as mentioned before, it seems Hardwick merely let a bit loose and did some of the things that Twilight only showed in long meaningful stares between vampire boy and human girl. Basically, Little Red Riding Hood is getting down to business. Heritage’s article points out how the fight against a werewolf (I do have a sly suspicion the murders might be due to someone rather human-Honestly when does Gary Oldman, bless him,not turn out to be the baddy?) is repeteadly accompanied by our main girl tredding on the path of temptation. Which in itself is not wrong, I mean with natural light of that quality and some supringsingly soft-looking moss who wouldn’t be in the mood? But whereas the sexual abstinence in Twilight was often the main point of negative criticism, Red Riding Hood is getting the other edge of the sword. I feel quite ambiguous about the film, as it features ‘I’ll try anything once’ Amanda Seyfriend and, sadly typecast, Gary Oldman, along with Avatar hero Sam Worthington and is obviously trying to jump on the vampire wagon (look out for the unmissable ‘FROM THE DIRECTOR OF TWILIGHT’ moment in the trailer).

But I do feel that it is mainly due to this choice of actors and marketing that it appears basically as a film for those pubescent Twi-Hards who felt their first tingle a few years ago when Edward and Jacob took to the stage, and that the actual story might be able to tell something different. There must be something more behind the popularity of stories about adolescent girls finding themselves in rather metaphorical spaces (Pan’s Labyrinth, Coraline or Burton’s Alice in Wonderland).

If there’s one thing they have in common, it’s their ‘over the shoulder look’.

Red Riding Hood is a figure able to be moulded into any contemporary cultural atmosphere, be it Neil Jordan’s adaptation of another adaptation (by Angela Carter) The Company of Wolves of 1984 or Oliver Stone’s 1996 ‘Grrrrl’ meets ‘Rape-Revenge’ style Freeway, sporting an adolescent Reese Witherspoon and a rather creepy Kiefer Sutherland (think Phone Booth) and I am interested to see how actively 2011’s Red Riding Hood will be facing the big bad wolf. And I mean the actual wolf and the metaphorical one of psychosexual maturation.
Even more intriguing, how will audiences react to such a sexualization of an image of (apparent) childhood innocence.

I do find it really interesting that popular fiction shows a mentionable demand in the ‘lone girl+supernatural’ format ( take Black Swan as an example) and can’t get enough of Hardwicke’s excellent helicopter shots of breathtaking landscapes and am curious but the treatment of sex will be crucial in terms of the interpretation of the recent surge in films about young girls lost in fantastical places. Hopefully, once I get on with the planning of my Masters, I might be able to answer more on this.

There will be a hole in Monday nights.In shape of Grandma’s House.

Since a few weeks ago, on Monday nights, something miraculous happened. For half an hour, I encountered pure comedic genius and great writing thanks to the brain of Simon Amstell and his collaborator Dan Swimer.

At first glance, the idea to simply use Amstell’s break from TV as the plot for a sitcom may seem easy and not very innovative, but all doubts are shattered with the first instant of the ensemble interacting. Again, one might argue that the style of Grandma’s House, with the action taking place only in the very confined spaces of a suburbian household is anything but fresh, it’s in fact exactly what made The Royle Family so distinguished. The focus in Amstell’s comedy, however, is laid upon other, very specific elements of family life and human nature.

There is Simon himself. Highly intelligent and strutting with, as expected, sarcasm filled to the brim, but also confused and blissfully desperate about the (pointless) nature of humanity and mundane life. He struggles with these expectations of him based on his Popworld-self and his longing for integrity, which are projected so naturally it makes me as a viewer almost uncomfortable due to the feeling of invading his privacy, something lying at the source of good comedy. Apart from this dilemma, he is also faced by his family’s demands to go back on television and stop being so clever, his grandfather’s fears of having cancer and the following diagnosis confirming them, the conflict between him and his stepfather-to-be and his attempts at finding forgiveness in his parents’ break-up. Quite a handful, even for a television sitcom.

His family add to all this by bringing in their own demons. His mother (portrayed by Rebecca Front) is about to enter a marriage with ever-charming Clive (James Smith in an exceptional role), which her son openly disapproves of not out of jealousy as assumed, but due to very well-disguised worries for her true happiness. She also deals with a sister (Samantha Spiro) stuck in sibling rivalry mode whose main obsession is to change her teenage son (delightfully antagonistic Jamal Hadjkura) from school to school. Overlooking all this are Grandma (Linda Bassett), a traditional, but thankfully not bitter, eternal housewife believing that a cuppa can still smooth over the most deadlocked argument, even if she knows better, and Grandpa (Geoffrey Hutchings), a quiet but perceptive soul personifying good old patriarchal diplomacy.
It may be noticeable that I love very single character on the show, one outshining the other. It’s the ensemble’s interactions, fuelled by each personal predicaments and their subsequent judgement of each other which make the viewer laugh. But at the same time, no character ever really takes centre stage, because in real life, other family members won’t let you.

This feeds into what is so great and refreshingly honest about the series. Even though the above mentioned issues lead to absurdly hilarious situations and conversations, the beauty of Grandma’s House lies in its calmness. ‘It’s funny because it’s true’ never applied better and at the same time does not do it justice. The characters and storyline do not need to rely on the show’s status as a sitcom , the performances are almost organic. No need for over-planned and elaborate set-ups a la Seinfeld. There are flickers of crises of masculinities (Simon’s homosexual, Clive’s mid-life and Grandpa’s physical), but these don’t overshadow the female, the age-related or familial ones. Grandma’s House is literally an agglomerate of real, everyday life. Simon’s often bleak outbursts condemning the futility of human nature seem to subvert this, but also constantly re-affirm its dramatic potential. At the same time these moments allow a peek into the depths of Amstell’s intelligence which make me think that I could never dare attempting to conceptualize his creativity. I believe that this is why many of his ‘victims’ during his Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcock-era did not dare to confront him; because behind such sarcasm is always a genius-like perceptibility of people’s motives and agendas.

Mr Amstell I salute you, and it’s those peeks into the workings of your mind and the resulting, so believable picture of family reality which I will crave from now on until I hear any whispers of a second series.

The Janus Face Feminism of Twilight

It’s hard to disregard the cultural importance of Stephenie Meyer’ vampire saga. People either love it or hate it, but nobody seems to miss it. A perfect example for successful marketing, the franchise has ascended from niche interest to global media product. This phenomenon itself is worth undergoing some discussion, as many of its original fans are now looking with contempt at a commercialisation beating even the likes of Harry Potter and High School Musical.

I would describe myself as a fan of the series, although typing this makes me cringe as if I’ve just revealed my best kept secret. I watched the film before reading the books, and remember slaying it beforehand. I was a little more satisfied walking out of the film, but it wasn’t until a few months later when I read ‘Twilight’ as preparation for university ( it really was on the syllabus I have an exam paper to prove it) that I felt the need to complete the whole series. I then became slightly obsessed with it, but recently have literally gone off it due to its overwhelming cultural presence. I wanted to get to the core of which elements in it appealed to me in the first place, but now make it a somewhat guilty pleasure. After stumbling upon an article by the Guardian http://gu.com/p/2tbx3 when researching feminism and geek culture I realized what it was: Its ambiguity in terms of feminism.

The first angle to look at is obviously the tone of the novels itself. As comments by readers of the previously mentioned Guardian article pointed out, it destabilizes previous assumptions about visual objectification. Bella’s attraction towards Edward is a central theme of the novels, and must be doing something other chick-lit lacks. It may be its focus on a teenage couple, rather than 30-somethings, which is seen as so alternative, and even unsettling for some (examples). Without a doubt, teenage literature aimed at girls always talks about boys. However, you would hardly find cases similar to the ‘Twilight-Moms’. So there must be something that appeals to both (sexually) experienced women as well as younger female readers. It seems that while it recaptures feelings of infatuation for its mature readers, younger audiences are given a sense of anticipation.

The novels are told from a first-person perspective, and readers are given a most intimate account of Bella’s feelings, who is not experienced in relationships or sexuality for that matter. The argument here is that female readers feel empowered at having the opportunity of shamelessly seeing a man as exclusively sexually attractive, without the attributes usually playing a more substantial part in female fiction.

Even in the more ‘raunchy’ examples of the genre, status representation quickly overshadows initial attraction. A male character is only sustainable with a successful job, or an alternative source of income but a moral attitude that promotes self sufficiency. His appeal is due to social rank and dominance, which become the main dynamics driving the plot, and often the man serves as the one who teaches the heroine to change her silly ways. In Twilight then, the first person narrative allows us to see that Bella actively desires Edward’s apparently ‘dangerous’ vampire qualities, which are essentially symbols for masculinity. Reading Twilight is like reading erotic fiction without the decoration. It’s being allowed to see the knight without his shining armour, as what he essentially is: A man to look at.

Or so it seems at first. Because this is where it gets complicated. Would Meyer have limited the account of their relationship to Bella in the tone of the first instalment, I believe a feminist point could have been made. However, there is Edward’s voice; and it tels a different story.

Although Bella is rather intense in her refusals to be given presents, financial support or other romantic offerings by Edward, once we get into the New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, she has to diplomatically bargain for her emotional needs by accepting several material gifts. Female Fans praise Edward for his gentlemanly attitude but his relationship with Bella resembles a constant struggle for power. Of course, he does not want her to be a damned soul in order to be with him, but at the same time he tries to control their partnership. Meyer justifies his mind-set by making him an early 20th Century man frozen in the ways of his age. But Mr Darcy-like courting does not cushion the aftertaste of a condescending kind of oppression.

Bella herself is rather modern, agreeing to marriage only to be turned into a vampire sooner. However, we witness a very ambiguous development following her honeymoon and subsequent (and SPOILER here!) half-vampire half-human pregnancy. The option of abortion is out of the question for her, despite the foetus threatening her life. (N.B.: This not to be a discussion of abortion, but from a women’s rights view, I believe agreeing to the legal availability of abortion as an option does not neccesarrily equal agreeing to abortion).

Many elements in the series are this ambiguous and sometimes even contradictory. Take the special ‘gifts’ some vampires posses as an example. Edward’s is mind-reading, allowing him to control every situation. In comes Bella and hooray! She is the one exception; her mind cannot be read. However, she initially assumes something to be ‘wrong’ with her (Boo!). She later begins to use it to her advantage (Hooray!), but finally decides to let him in (hmm…ok). This clearly represents the element of being able to choose, which Meyer named as the feminist potential of the Twilight series.

However, it seems that Meyer (who as a Mormon offers a whole new, religious debate of her writing) is herself torn. She states that despite studying English, once her first child was born all she wanted to be was a mother. In an interview , she claims that she ‘Bella and I think completely different. I created a character that led a life I didn’t know […] I dated all the Mike Newtons and Eric Yorkies in my life. I never did, even see an Edward. That was all part of this fantasy that I got to live for 3 months.’

Clearly she is just as much in love with the story and its out-of-the-ordinary quality as her readers. Whereas this represents what she feels, what she does think becomes a more separate part of the story, and as Bella is so different, is being told through Edward. Her traditional views concerning marriage, motherhood and the family are all expressed through the metaphor of the vampire clan. Despite her pushing the apparent choices Bella has, Meyer introduces an accidental pregnancy which becomes the central element of the climactic Breaking Dawn. Bella is given the gift( or is it the task?) of literally ‘shielding’ her family and while on an emotional level completely justifiable, in terms of women’s position limits her to the role of a mother and wife and destroys the illusions of freedom of choice. The transformation into a vampire empowers Bella, she becomes a supernatural woman, but with it comes the adherence to the lifestyle of the very traditional Cullens.

As a reader, I am facing the same dilemma. There is the emotional level, on which we simply read a story enjoyable for its difference in how to view men, and the rational level, on which we need to be aware that as we delve further into the story, Meyer is expressing her belief system. There are many more radical views on Twilight which have reason to exist, but I still remain a fan of the story, if not of Meyer herself. As long as I recognize that life with Edward would be quite complicated and reactionary, I guess I can read the books and watch the films with the pleasure of temporarily objectifying him/Robert Pattinson.The problem is that the target audience is now that of teenage girls, who may not be able to distinguish.

Why I love Em Lewin

For an assignment for my journalism module I looked at arts of fiction which benefit from innovative and captivating characters which stand out from the crowd and create a realistic portrayal of human nature with all its anxieties and experiences. I wanted to try and capture the effects these characters have on the viewer and what it is that makes them so different from the average, often two-dimensional, characters found in many contemporary plots of popular fiction. These interpretations are merely a way of expressing my appreciation of what great minds have given us as a means of escapism. I feel that there are many male fans writing online whereas girls are often expected to restrict their support to chick flicks, so here come the (Fan-) girls.

Em Lewin (portrayed by Kristen Stewart) in Adventureland

Greg Mottola’s latest film Adventureland has often mistakenly been compared to his already-a-classic Superbad (2007). But even as both tell the tales of young males finding their own path, their stories differ significantly. Whereas Superbad depicts the strength of a buddy-relationship at the brink of leaving for college, Adventureland’s protagonist James has already graduated and split with his rather ‘harmful’ friendship with Frigo. Consisting of a humour aptly encapsulating the angst of teenagers, Superbad serves as a manifesto for loyal male fan-groupings. But whereas girls here are merely a MacGuffin, for portraying the romantic inaptitude of the male characters, Em, ‘the’ girl of Adventureland, takes on a significant and meaningful role. She is the driving factor for James self-discovery and thus given more depth. This is a rather typical role for Kristen Stewart: enigmatic but nuanced, her and James’ self-discovery is balanced equally and it is through their relationship together that the film’s message about adult relationships is conveyed, namely that ‘you can’t just avoid everybody you screwed up with’.

Emerging from the summer blues

It’s been so long and weirdly, my boredom causes me to be even more bored and actually not to do much apart from cleaing clean rooms again and moaning about my lack of a job. but, after an exhausting sunday afternoon run whichI hope has released some endorphins, I shall take this blog up again.

I wanted to put up some of the articles I wrote for my student newspaper ,The Looprevil Press, so there will be some of my reviews up here soon, amongst them a still unpublished review of ‘Kick-Ass’ for which I worked my own off…

However be aware that  this could go in any direction: reviews, recipes,ramblings.

xx

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