Cinema, Month of Madness

With recent events, I haven’t felt much like watching horror movies, much less posting about them. But I have been watching and trying to contextualize and square the real life horrors happening in the world with the movies I’ve chosen. It’s not easy. After 9/11/01, I had to take a break from horror movies for some time. In fact, my now annual Month of Madness, which began in 2003, marked the first time after it that I truly felt comfortable watching them again.

And so here I am again, feeling like horror is just too real to enjoy; feeling like I don’t want to see anyone brutalized or killed for “fun,” when 58 people were just murdered in Las Vegas and countless others were injured and traumatized.

But it’s October, and this entire year has been filled with horrors and traumas and while I’m so tired of reacting to them, I was looking forward to some self-indulgent movie bingeing.  Not to mention the real challenge of sticking with the plan, and of course, the discipline orf writing every day. I really do love having a excuse to do that.  I want to write every day, you know, but my job kind of sucks the zest out of it for me a lot of the time. It’s tough, maintaining a real job and trying maintain your creative life.

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Month of Madness

I’m already looking forward to Month of Madness 2016. I’m tentatively thinking about a theme and listing some movies. I love Month of Madness so much! I don’t want to rush summer, but I won’t be too sad when October arrives.

Until then, I’m satisfying myself with this montage of everything I watched last year, 2015, The Year of Our Lord Summerisle.

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classroom films, short of the week

If you thought Nick had a dilemma in figuring out What To Do on a Date, wait until see you see what poor Jeff and Mary are in for when they discover they’re GOING STEADY!

Going Steady? (1951), with that purposeful question mark in the titles pretends to leave the question open with title and end cards that implore the viewer to “answer the question for yourself,” but the film actually makes it clear that going steady is as enjoyable a practice as studying tax law.

Marie and Jeff find they have “drifted” into going steady, which sends Jeff into an existential funk. “Am I going steady?” he wonders in a classic classroom film voiceover. “What does that mean? How did I get into this anyway?”

For her part, Marie is nervous about what all this going steady might lead to. “What about petting?” she asks a friend. “I’ve heard you can get too deeply involved if you’re going steady.”

The double standard rolls on in as we learn that Jeff is not concerned about petting, and neither are his parents when he confides in them over a checker game. They simply tell him to play the field, that he will go steady with many girls before he ever gets married. This is in contrast to Marie’s mother, when Marie tearfully confides that she’s been *gasp* going steady with Jeff. Mom needs to know, right now,  “Jeff doesn’t think he can take liberties, does he?” Marie’s cute face falls as she learns the truth:  the onus is on her to be aware that sexual urges are to be avoided at all costs. Handsome Jeff should simply have fun while he still can, right, Mom and Dad?

The kids seems to take these mixed  – and, let’s face it, completely unchanged in 2016 -messages to heart when they meet for their next date. Jeff arrives on Friday night for a nice, safe date playing records in Marie’s well-lit living room with her parents nearby, and they tacitly agree to be more casual about their dates in the future. The films ends with both teens seeming relieved that they have successfully avoided their urges for another day. Whew. We were close there.

Cinema, grad school, Music

Written for grad school in 2009, this piece is a fun look at how one song has endured through twenty-five plus years and scores of use in various media. 

katrina

       Kicky drums and tambourine open the song, beating out a sense of excitement about what’s to come. Almost any listener knows the song from those first ten seconds, and anyone who is not sure is certain when vocalist Katrina Leskanich explodes with an enthusiastic, “Ow!” eleven seconds in. Then come the horns, and Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” is off on its three-minute, fifty-seven second journey of infectious happiness. It is a an upbeat, cheerful song with heartfelt, throaty vocals and lyrics that speak of the realization of true love –

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Cinema, grad school, media literacy

A little while ago, I was listening to this podcast, on which the special guest was one of my friends from grad school, Chris. The subject of John Hughes movies came up, as it will, and inevitably the hosts noted that Hughes had a keen ear for the music of the time. OMD’s If You Leave was mentioned, and hoo boy, that’s a song that throws me back to 1986 in a hurry. When I later mentioned to Chris that I agreed with him that it’s a fantastic song, I reflected that the film in which it plays an integral part, Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986) was kind of a watershed for me.

“I could see that,” he said.

This gave me pause. Really? It shows? But it’s true. Pretty in Pink is the thing from which many things Megan come.

Check it: Poor girl from the literal wrong side of the tracks attracts a handsome “richie” aka wealthy boyfriend. It’s awkward, then goes well, then doesn’t, then she makes a questionable looking Prom dress for all the right reasons, shows incredible strength and (spoiler) Richie sees the error of his weak-spined ways. Kiss in the parking lot, and scene.

Also she has extraordinary friends, a missing parent, and an incredibly creative wardrobe.

Okay, except for the Prom dress making and the happy ending, this was my high school experience.


My parents split in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, plunging my mom and me into food stamps and scraping by. We lived on quite the wrong side of town, out of my school’s district, and fibbed to the school about my actual address until we finally moved into an even more wrong part of town, socially speaking.

In the next year, a friend named Kelly  taught me to shop at Goodwill. This was a revelation, and I could augment the so-so clothes we could afford with funky sweaters, cast-off sequined tops and hats. Oh, the glorious hats. I found myself in thrifting and in wearing ever-increasingly unusual things.

I wore hats I bought at antique stores and silver sandals, big hoop earrings and a little yellow leather box purse, slung across my chest like a messenger bag.  I’d gotten it on a band trip to Europe that fateful end-of-my-family summer – the last big thing my parents did for me before the divorce, and I still don’t know how they paid for it. And for all of junior year I had a wealthy boyfriend from the right side of town.

All of this is to say, I was living some Andie Walsh realness and I didn’t even know it.

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Andie and Me.

There are differences, yes. My boyfriend cheerfully took me to the prom, so we avoided the WHAT ABOUT PROM, BLAINE? scene in the hall. We broke up the next fall and it was sort of mutual. Kind of. I pined, but you do that when you’re 17 and your family is a mess and Boyfriend represents some kind of stability. You do that.

James Spader wasn’t there. But I knew a guy with a Trans Am and he was REALLY cute.

And no one performed this for me.

Duckie or no, Pretty in Pink is one of those movies that stuck in my consciousness and has never left. In my own desire for funky earrings and vintage hats, I think I was searching for the freedom of expression that Molly Ringwald’s Andie exhibited. Sure, she dressed the way she did because she couldn’t afford to shop where the rich kids did, but she also chose to express her creativity and sense of style honestly and openly. She wasn’t trying to look like everyone else, on a shoe-string budget. She was being herself. Perhaps something that started from necessity became for her a calling card, a statement, a declaration.

And beyond her clothes, Andie is a girl/woman who is fearless in declaring her right to be herself. In the WHAT ABOUT PROM scene; in her unusual and devoted relationships; in her final, defiant appearance in the ending scenes, Andie is Andie’s best champion and completely her own person. I love her for that.

And there’s something else in this film, a small but pivotal scene between Andie and the school principal, that moved me from the first time I saw it and continues to capture me.

In it, Andie has been called to the principal’s office for speaking out in class against some prototypical mean girls. I always want the principal to go to bat for her, but instead he turns the conversation slightly on its side.

“If you give off signals that you don’t want to belong,” he tells her,  “people will make sure that you don’t.”

At twelve I found this statement profoundly unfair. At twenty, I found it unsettling. And at forty, I get it. It’s true. And I wasn’t wrong at twelve – it is, indeed, unfair. But if you unpack it a little, you can see, deep in its heart, the notion that we are responsible for our own happiness. Whether we choose to fit in or not, we need to own our choices and own our joys and sorrows. We can’t always control what life hands us but we can decide how we react and how we deal with the people around us. Andie is eighteen; she’s just learning this. When I was young, I thought the principal was trying to stifle her sense of justice, but now, I see him guiding her through a world that will not always be easy, or kind, or fair.

To me, this was the genius of John Hughes. He could tap into the pain and humor of adolescence like no one else. And he portrayed the unique stories of teenage girls with a dignity, honesty, and respect that few ever have. He knew that growing up is complicated and messy and it largely sucks. There are few absolute truths. There are few absolute rights and wrongs. It is up to you to decide your truths and live by them.

And then there’s this, best scene ever:

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Me too, girl.

classroom films, short of the week

Here’s one of my favorites, first re-introduced by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90s. Watch that version – it’s fantastic. What To Do on a Date (1950), produced by the prolific and amazing Chicago-based Coronet Films, is the story of gooney high school guy, Nick, as he learns how to ask class cutie Kay on a date, has a small breakdown realizing he doesn’t actually know, well, what to do, and subsequently is schooled on the safe, group activities that make for an acceptable date in 1950.

To wit:

  • weenie roasts
  • square dances
  • taffy pulls
  • swim meets (wait, what?)
  • baseball games
  • fixing up the scavenger sale at the community center

I am not making this stuff up, kids.

Nick and Kay do seem to have a good time at the scavenger sale (I cannot say those words without giggling for some reason), and they snack on Cokes and ice cream, while Nick works up the nerve to ask for a second date. He slips in some fun gender role generalizations:

“All thought all girls wanted fellas to take them to fancy places, spend a lot of money.”

“Not this girl,” Kay reassures him.

For that matter, the whole thing firmly reinforces the idea that dates are for the male to initiate and the female to accept, graciously. Girls should be patient and quiet, happy to do low-cost, very public activities, preferable with a group, or at the very least, with another couple. But if producer Coronet is to be trusted, don’t accept too many dates, because then you’ll be Going Steady, and no one wants that. But that’s another entry.

 

Cinema, classroom films, short of the week

I dearly love watching and writing about classroom films of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve written about them here and there, and decided to collect my far-flung bits into a Short of the Week feature. Because why not.

Kicking off is one of my absolute favorites, Habit Patterns, from 1954. It’s a fifteen-minute exploration in shame and conforming, wrapped in a veneer of grooming and time management instruction.

Our film starts ominsouly. We open on ponytailed, sweet-faced Barbara clutching a scarf  and sobbing in her bedroom, while a stern female voice declares, “It’s a little late for tears, isn’t it Barbara?” It’s like my last job.

The source of Barbara’s upset is revealed in flashbacks. She oversleeps. Her room is sloppy.  Her sweater is stained. And when she receives a very important invitation to a very important classmate’s house, her manners are not up to speck.

It’s a tough day for Barbara.

To top it all off, the narrator continually compares Barbara to her neighbor Helen.  Helen, taller, well-groomed, and “with a pleasant word for her parents” is on time, gets plenty of sleep, and most importantly,  uses “taste in selecting her clothes. She’s able to match the right skirt with the right sweater.” Barbara will never live up to Helen. She knows this. Her mother knows this. The narrator knows this.

When it comes down to it, I really like Barbara AND Helen. I want to be organized like Helen, but Barbara’s sassy attitude and helter-skelter approach to her wardrobe give her some real personality.

So, Barbara gets through her day at school, running late for everything and with barely combed hair. In short, she stands out, and if there is one thing you do not do in a classroom film from 1954, it is stand out. When Anne Tolliver, apparently the social doyenne of this particular Junior High invites Barbara over after school, it is cause for celebration – Barbara has been chosen! – and for panic -her sweater is stained! Her hair is a mess! How can she possibly fit in?

There’s also a real feeling of class stratification here. The girls at Anne’s gathering, which resembles more of a conversation salon than adolescent girls hanging out (where is the giggling?) speak with what seem to be some kind of affected east coast accents (“the trouble with me is getting STAHTED with something new…my mother had to DRAHG me to the museum.”) Barbara does not. They talk of literature, visiting museums, attending the symphony, and summer homes. Barbara looks pained in her middle-class, museum-less shame.

She desperately tries to fit in by jumping into a conversation about summer homes and pretending she has one. But the narrator is not about to let this one slip by: “you only went [to the lake] once, didn’t you Barbara? Once you start fibbing, you can’t stop.” Oh, the narrator is relentless in her shaming.  And I’m pretty sure poor Barbara can hear her, because the end result is that she feels increasingly uncomfortable and leaves the party, but not before she hears Anne and some of the other girls talking about her:

“Maybe she felt shy?”
“A stained sweater isn’t shyness. And BAHD MAHNNERS are BAHD MAHNNERS no matter what you call them.”

Barbara runs home to cry alone, in her room, and we’ve come back to the beginning. Mrs. Narrator (you know she’s a Mrs.) continues on the offensive. “In all society, at all ages we know people are going to talk about other people,” she reminds Barbara, urging her not to dump her creepy friends, but instead to work on not giving them anything to snark about.

The gossiping girls are off the hook, and we spend the next seven minutes going through a litany of neighbor Helen’s good habits in hopes that Barbara might learn from them. Here’s where I get a little mesmerized by the complicated rules for putting away clothes and washing your face (“hang today’s skirt in the back of the closet to rest the fabric”).  It’s also where I get totally distracted by Barbara’s adorable mid-century bedroom. But don’t worry, Barbara pays better attention, and by the end she is forming the “good habits approved by custom and accepted by society.”

Thank goodness. But what will Anne and her minions talk about after the next conversation salon?

Cinema, Month of Madness

And here I am, falling behind already. To my credit, it has been a roller coaster lately. In the last week I:

  • endured a seismic shift at work
  • endured another one
  • got hit by two enormous migraines, more or less related by above, which took me out for two days
  • spoke on a panel of writers about writing because people think I’m a writer
  • made pretty cupcakes for a birthday

Oh! I also, watched a lot of movies. Let’s talk about that. A partial list:

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Cinema, Month of Madness

It’s been three long years since I’ve been able to indulge in one of my most singular pleasures: watching a horror movie a day all during October. Grad school, man. And in those three years, I’ve enjoyed flexing my writing muscles in short form and micro form blogging, but nothing can do justice to my Month of Madness horror marathon like this blog format. So, I’m back! Maybe I’ll even stay long than October because I have a lot to say these days.

So, Week One of the Madness just ended. Let’s see how I did.

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Cinema, grad school

I get to study film, kids! Oh my gosh oh my gosh.

Since finally kick-assing my way to my BA two years ago, I’ve had some more book learning in mind. But with my immense student loans staring me in the face and the lean couple of years we’ve had, taking on more educational debt has not seemed like the best idea.

And then I got a job at DePaul, which cracked the door on those ambitions a little.

And I got a full-time job at DePaul which kicked the door wide open.

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