Tag Archives: sexuality

Book Review: The Right-Hook of The Big Smoke

The Big Smoke, Cover.

The Big Smoke, Cover.

Right-Hook of The Big Smoke

In the collection of poetry, The Big Smoke, Adrian Matejka sets up an all-American underdog in that of historical boxing legend Jack Johnson. With skillful form and rich language, Matejka highlights a determination to keep his protagonist fighting for his life, to keep the heavy weight champion going, and to show the effects his character has on those near him. Matejka uses mechanical allegories and aggressive metaphors to describe a man as being similar to a well-oiled machine or animal. Whether for violence in the ring, or violence in domestic life, his gears are always spinning. The power within The Big Smoke stems from questions that it asks the reader. These questions of race, of segregation, of violence, and of gender, bring to mind an oppressive time in our not-so-distance past. The inquiries come in the densely compact prose and terse lines. This fictional history of collected poems graphically details the trials and tribulations of Jack Johnson, while it asks the reader provocative questions of racism, violence, and gender in American culture. The poems also ponder the worth of a man, in relation to his identity and appearance, while showcasing the consequence of action upon a person’s character. Adrian draws from the historical fiction based on the real-life boxer Jack Johnson. Johnson’s persona and attitude come out with Matejka’s voice. Pulling no punches, The Big Smoke reads as a how-to in boxing wins, and gives fresh perspective on the vantage point of another human, a person rooted in American history, from a completely different culture, and an antiquated time.

The Big Smoke focuses on topics of racism, the All-American rise to the top, physicality of a man, sexuality, and a violence driven sport. Themes put forward throughout his collection carry over from the distant past to shed light on topics still relevant today. Racism appears to be a key emphasis with Matejka’s African American protagonist, Jack Johnson. The Big Smoke starts out by detailing a man who is not afraid to fight to prove his worth, whether he is black or white. Jack appears as an everyman’s man. He is a deeply forthcoming and challenged individual who sets out in the world with odds against him—because of the color of his skin. He knows he must use his physical strength to get what he wants. Not only is Jack aware of his predicament, he faces it head on in physical bouts. Constant reference to fighters drawing the “colored line” shows the intense oppression that existed in American history, and in Jack’s professional life. Not only was Jack subject to being denied the opportunity to fight for his living, he was antagonized by those in the crowd while he fought. Matejka makes art of describing fight scenes of high pomp and lavish fashion. A man’s dream of success and fortune is seen through the eyes of Johnson, though the inverse is also shown. With violence, racism, and sexuality comes the idea of a dangerous living. Matejka maps out a precarious world. Jack Johnson is at times his best friend and his own worst enemy. Ego from being a champion overtakes his senses and draws him closer to his demise. When Jack has everything, the cars, the money, the champagne, the women, the sex, and the victories—even with the negative aspects of the racial strife, he still wants more. His insatiable drive within American culture is a play on the society’s lust for possession and power, and what a person will go through to get it.

The detailed setting of The Big Smoke adds unique framing the feel of the poems. Though the setting of The Big Smoke appears to exist in the south, or on the west coast, it may better reflect America as a whole. Valuable aspects throughout this collection of poetry are the greatness in details given. At times these details come off-handedly, in relation to motor vehicles, hotel rooms, intimate settings, and hot midday boxing matches where men are beaten to pulps—as detailed props of the locale. Matejka uses sharp imagery to show intense struggle and pain. In many of his poems he describes a man being torn apart physically with language so elegant and so commonplace that the reader will hardly bat an eye, only to realize the power of the line thereafter. A good author can create amazing works with the simplest words. Matejka does this masterfully, yet not without throwing hints of French, Latin, and early Modern English language into the mix. When foreign lines come up in The Big Smoke, the reader may be somewhat confused at the placement or idea of such phrases. However, these spirts and fragments show the intelligence of the main character. It sheds light on his mentality. Jack Johnson can relate to these classics—Shakespeare and the unfamiliar, he is well read black man in a southern American setting. This detail is telling. It allows for the reader to have empathy, to see eye to eye with the struggle. Jack Johnson this successful individual is only being oppressed by the color of his skin. He has been placed in the unfortunate setting of racial tension. Though it seems an odd pairing, Jack Johnson and Southern United States, it alludes to America’s melting pot makeup. We are all characters in the fight of life trying to get ahead, trying to prevail on those around us, to make it. The American South is a hotbed of controversy, steeped in oppression. The setting and language keeps the reader engaged while on edge, and this defines Matejkas talent for creating fiction of a real-life hero.

Voice, aggression, cocky confidence, self-assured prize fighter, forget the race, swagger, these are the authors tools for creating a violent machine of a man, a man on the verge of becoming a veritable monster, and a master of his sport. Matejka challenges the reader with such pointed topics by using straightforward words and dialogue. Jack Johnson as the subject is not a timid creature, but iron-fisted boxer with his assertions. He is explosive. His dead-pan humor is either that to be laughed at, or completely serious and not at all. He is not an individual to tango with. If he wants something, a woman, a hit, a win in a fight, he takes it without asking. The way he eggs his opponents on is textbook bully. His nature is captured by referencing animals and machines. Matejka has created a working Goliath of a man in his beginnings, in his prime, and in his relative demise. Jack Johnson may tell the other fighter how to take a punch, or how to go down, tell his love interest that he will choke her, or buy her jewelry, but he is foretelling of his action, and this creates the intrigue. He has thoughtful meaning about him. While some aspects of his personality may be hidden in brief breaks for correspondence between Jack and his companions, the lack of information given provides a natural tension to ensure the reader’s locked into the story. Matejka’s words work as tools to produce a dangerous man partial to violence. Jack is an interesting example of a product of his own environment. He gets violence and he gives it back. He is the champion of boxing, yet he is the champion of a violent and barbaric sport. And those bold attributes carry over into both aspects of his life, sport and personal. Jack Johnson’s larger than life persona is Matejka’s Goliath in print.

Matejka gives you the visual, the historical background. In the opening of The Big Smoke while he discusses Shakespeare and Bear fights. The world his poems create is one of old—yet still relevant. He sets up Jack as an animal, a monster, yet with an empathetic quality of which the reader can relate to. His barbaric nature is countered always with luxury, or education, or elegance in style of the day. To quote Shakespeare is to know of Shakespeare. To ride in fancy car, buy expensive jewelry, and pop fine champagne in bathtubs, is to understand luxury. Jack’s life is setup up so that the reader can be carried into the success and failure. This gives feeling of closeness of relation to the reader. Jack’s voice is seen through with Matejka’s language. Matejka cleverly uses colloquialisms and low-demotic dialogue to push the reader into a caste system and to show where the fighter came from. This place in society is painted perfectly. Human nature is reflected within the subject’s needs. Jack needs money, he needs women, and later in the book he needs a high society lifestyle. Matejka’s voice, given to Jack, is one of many facets, a history of the man. The way that Matejka creates the quality of each character draws the reader into the collection emotionally.

Historical America, and its oppression, is shown within Matejka’s collection of poems. The question of historical oppression comes to the fore especially in the boxing ring. When Johnson is to fight someone outside of his race the intensity within the poem is turned up, this intensity creates excitement of the material. Aspects of life become more vivid. Reflecting on Jack’s fight, Matejka will focus on minute aspects such as sweat, or the sun, or the insides of a person being pulverized. Even the colors within the poems appear brighter. The glint of Johnson’s gold teeth and the biting language come out, at times tragically so. Adrian’s tone and tenor create a landscape in his poetry that is easy for a reader to agree with, even if the topic itself is difficult, melancholy, or traumatizing. The historical presence throughout brings the collection closer to home, and offers insight to our country in earlier historical times. Matejka’s ability to imagine and relate appear on each page.

The readability of The Big Smoke comes from the theme and the text itself. This by no means suggests that the topics and themes of this collection of poetry are not without significance. The topics within are American made. The All-American rise is at hand. Jack Johnson starts out by declaring his mother is a slave. He comes from this environment. His inspiration is getting ahead, essentially following the American Dream. He rises by fighting for necessity and eventually gaining a reputation as a fighter. The fame and fortune which comes is desirable to the reader. Having a constant underdog lends to the framework of a story immensely. Even while Jack is at the top his internal struggle, with women, with race, with caste systems, create problems for him, by his problems he is easily relatable. This theme would also be less readable had it not come with clever language. Matejka avoids being lumped into a category of poets who use big words to please the pretentious, though he does at times throw in flashy demotic. He also avoids objective history, because what is that? The way he manipulates tenor reflects in the language of Jack Johnson. Jack is clearly beyond the ordinary man, he is powerful, almost super-human, and intelligent. Matejka proves this by alluding to his literary repertoire. He also makes this visible through powerful dialogue, dialogue between Jack and the women in his life, and italicized words which are either assumed direct quotes or mere quick thinking. The Big Smoke allows the reader a mix of close imagery and insightful thought through the use of risqué topics and lean prose.

The Big Smoke presents diverse language on a diverse and difficult topic, racism in America, violence between humans, and the ever pressing framework of a hierarchy. These elements are presented with Matejka’s artful prose. The storytelling and smart verse keeps the reader entrenched and imagining. Realism in imagery and description make a fictional story seem as the real thing. The idea of Jack Johnson as an American underdog, starting with nothing and rising to the top, is one rooted in the American Dream, no matter race. Jack Johnson as a character embodies the trials and tribulations set forth by an oppressive and judgmental society. He goes on to prove that he is the man in charge, though he is the person who ruins himself in the end. This espouses that Jack Johnson was in control, no one controlled him—but he himself. Throughout Matejka’s collection of poetry Jack Johnson is a force to be reckoned with. The Big Smoke is an inspiring and gritty book of poems rooted in the clashes of American history and culture, which speak to the essence of the American Dream.

Work Cited
Matejka, Adrian. The Big Smoke. New York: Penguin Group, 2013. Print.

Moby-Dick: a Metaphor of Foreplay and Sex

Moby Dick destroying shit.

Moby Dick destroying shit.

Moby-Dick: a Metaphor of Foreplay and Sex

Throughout Herman Melville’s American classic Moby-Dick, there is much description of whaling by way of terminology, the ins-and-outs of the profession, yet there is a more natural characteristic interwoven. Mixed between numerous chapters of encyclopedic fodder there are points of detailed action. Melville’s Moby-Dick critiques human sexual frustration brought on by thinking as opposed to doing, by obsessing over the act. The act of waiting leads to a catastrophic end, one built up by preconceived notions of such events; sexual relations or hunting a whale. A reaction not unlike the social assumptions founded in the motives of foreplay and sex. Throughout Moby-Dick there is subtle, and yet direct, insinuation of the sexual meaning, and the powers of sexual frustration. Readers are exposed to situations in relation to marriage, homosexuality, sperm, virgins, penis, vagina, with few, yet weighted references to women, in relation to sex, by way of ambiguous whaling references. What Melville does in Moby-Dick is express the sheer pressure of pent up sexual aggression, and the lack of sex- until the final chapter. Ahab’s hunt for the slippery Moby Dick, the unknowable, other sex, is his internal struggle with his sexual identity. Having this whale defines him; not having this whale destroys him. Moreover, Ishmael, Ahab, and the majority of the crew on the Pequod, are represented sexually by way of working in close proximity, discussing sexually loaded topics, and becoming ever increasingly more desperate for the prospect of having said whale, or symbolically, sex. In Moby-Dick, Melville is expressing the weight of thought, time, and words one puts into courtship, relationship, marriage and sexual conquests. Melville’s Moby-Dick is a 19th century critique on sexual strain and the emphasis society puts on sexual identity; in relation to the turmoil and pressure sex causes physically and mentally to an individual.

In order to understand Melville’s theory of sexuality the reader must first understand a few things about sex, before understanding Moby-Dick’s sexiness. Sex, usually, takes place between two people, sex involves sexual organs (almost always), and sex presumably comes out of want, or need to be satisfied sexually, and/or to procreate. One can have sex, but one cannot have sex: Ishmael suggests, “It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all” (p 20) Sex is not an object to obtain, but an experience to behold. Though, neither is Moby Dick an object to obtain. One can either talk about sex, or have sex, -doing. Though, one can discuss Moby Dick, one cannot have Moby Dick. One can talk about past experiences in relation to sex, or create new experiences by having sex. Though, Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick now he chases him again. Sex is not tangible, however real, sex is not a thing, entity, or object, sex is an action fleeting. The act of sex is meaningful, or meaningless, depending on the person. It can be life changing, or life ending (heart attack: Viagra). People can have sex, but they cannot keep sex. They can remember sex, or can’t; because it’s either over or happening. The obsession with sex is age-old, but made relevant by the persons involved. Moby Dick is made significant, a sole obsession, as sex can be also made an obsession, by Ahab. In order to reproduce one must have sex, coitus. Sex is the monomaniacal obsession we human beings exist for. Without sex we would not be. That being said, Ahab’s sex is Moby Dick. Ahab’s only life goal is to capture and kill and have Moby Dick, though he does not realize that like sex, Moby Dick is also unobtainable. One cannot own sex, as one cannot own Moby Dick. He can have Moby Dick for a moment, but that moment must end. One cannot strike sex, because sex does not exist. Sex is an act, above an object, yet still sought after to no end. We human beings become excited by the prospect of sex, possibly as much as Ahab becomes excited about the prospect of having Moby Dick. Melville is creating a symbol of sex out of Moby Dick, a giant white whale, and those aboard the Pequod, led by Captain Ahab, are the human beings looking for the action, the sex. Also, the reader must be human.

Moby-Dick, the book itself, is a whale of a novel in its most literal sense (pun intended, in the most clichéd way). Moby-Dick is the elephant in the room. It is large in size and meaning, it is rough and hard in reading. It builds itself up within itself; Moby Dick as infamous, Ahab as crazed, and the Pequod as totally fucking doomed. That ship is going down, that captain will die, and that whale will get some action and then leave. The book is endowed with much thick symbolism. One example of symbolism is expressed through Ishmael and Queegueg. Before the meeting of Queequeg we see an independent Ishmael, a sort of landlubber on the prowl for something more, to become a seaman, he is walking loose. Ishmael saunters around town until he finds the nearest Inn, in hopes of a warm night’s rest (sure). He gets far more. Upon realizing that he must sleep with a cannibal (opposites attract!) Ishmael is changed. He sees this prospect as something exotic, something new, something which grabs him. He had no real warning of this event, and has no time to react negatively. It starts the way an impassioned sexual encounter may start, perhaps. He navigates the situation using themes suggesting a marriage, a wedding, and a “wife” (p 36), thoughts of intimacy are swollen, as he is drawn in. His relationship with Queequeg is seemingly consummated on the first night. After this encounter they are bound to a queer pact, for the rest of the book; a tacit agreement that makes them closer than any of the whalers aboard the Pequod. This is an example of how Melville shows the importance of sexual closeness in a relationship, specifically one not built upon pretense, prejudice, or judgment, and the stability and comradery which comes with it. This passage breaks down the build-up, the sexual frustration, it shows discussion of evils as a device to oppress and torture the mind. Whether or not Ishmael and Queequeg have sex, it is no matter, but innuendo. They conceive this relationship spontaneously, and it is no one-night-stand. Melville puts great emphasis on the concept of a relationship being formed quickly, physically, and without airing of past situation. Melville adds deep meaning to this somewhat substantially awkward narrative, which becomes a foundation of Moby-Dick’s progressive sexual ideology; free love, gay relations, and a desirable and poignant friendship which encompasses both. Moby-Dick is built-up on stories of sexual experience before they happen, this garners fear and anxiety, causing major issues for the Pequod’s crew: Ishmael states, “What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself—the man’s a human being just as I am: he has as much reason to fear me as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.” (p 36) Ishmael could be saying (for later chapters): the whale is just a whale, or sex is just sex.

In physical words and vastness of text, Melville emphasizes on the importance and detriment, of foreplay in a sexual relationship. Melville shows in practice through the text’s length, the power of waiting for action; Moby-Dick has 427 pages, 135 chapters. Approximately ten of the chapters consist of showing actual action. There is much lengthy foreplay in Moby-Dick of asserting oneself near Moby Dick. Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession could reflect the obsession that a real whaler, or real sailor, has while away from the physical and mental nature of the opposite sex. Ahab constantly discusses the whereabouts of Moby Dick. “Hast seen the white whale?” (p 403) this is the first question Ahab asks every ship he comes across. He is out to sea for such a long period of time, away from civilization, and the first inquiry he can conjure is one of a whale. One could assume he does not act unlike someone suffering from sexual frustration due to lack of sex, or the obsessing over sex. He has seen a bit of Moby Dick, and now he wants more. His days become toilsome and disturbed in wanting. He can think of one thing only, and he will put the whole crew in harm’s way to mount it. Instead of being obsessed with his wife, being away from her, and lacking the ability to console in her, Ahab goes to the nearest, yet most unbelievable and less attainable thing: a white whale, Moby Dick. Ishmael is Ahab’s foil, here Melville shows contrast by characteristics, by way of having and not having a companion. Ishmael has Queequeg, Ahab lacks Moby Dick. Ahab’s obsession shows the obsession a human being has while in love, or in the pursuit of a sexual intercourse. Ahab puts himself out there for whatever he may receive. He would do anything to have said object; one can interchange girlfriend, boyfriend, penis, vagina, sex, pleasure, power, or love etc., for Moby Dick. It is Ahab’s piqued obsession, and like the others, in a similar situation, are all going down together, and not in a good way. Misery needs company and all of those on board the Pequod are lacking, except, interestingly enough, Pip, who the reader can assume is not old enough for these sexual urges; also including Ishmael and Queequeg, being already satisfied. Ahab would stop at nothing to achieve his goal of getting, having, and taking the elusive white whale. Ahab has made it his mission, as someone in love will stop at nothing to be with a certain person they love.

In language and “fact”, the reader can assume that Melville, through Ishmael is somewhat experienced. His numerous chapters on the art of whaling, or the art of the action, outnumber the actual action itself. We see this foreplay, and foreshadowing, of something to come. Ishmael wants action in a way as well, from experience, “Nothing, Sir; but I have no doubt I shall soon learn.” (p 71) Ishmael once worked on a merchant vessel, something apart from a whaling ship. Ishmael observes and relays information, but like someone lacking experience in trials and errors, he gives no fresh examples of tries. He refers to outdated, sourced material, written by others who have experienced. These second hand accounts excite and entice Ishmael into finding something more, something tangible. He reads a book on whaling, or a book on sex, and he wants some of it, so he enlists and gets aboard a ship. This happens, not before a possible sexual encounter. Ishmael has only begun, he is madly in lust for action; however, there is someone else more interested, more taken over by this lust, that someone: Ahab. Ishmael eventually recognizes the danger in this obsession, obsessing over the unattainable; whether that be the touch of a women, sex, love, or intimacy on the high seas. Ishmael witnesses this change in a person, – he also has Queequeg for a companion- and realizes he must avoid such peril. His desire through readings on whales is less than one who has previously experienced whales firsthand. In Ahab’s experience, as in the experience of being in love, or having sex, one loses a part of themselves. Ahab has lost his leg, and now he wants to take something from his adversary, or ex-lover. His mission is deeper than actually killing Moby Dick. His mission is as deep as eradicating Moby Dick from the world, and from his sick mind. Ahab and Ishmael are consumed by similar plights, obsession, yet just before Ishmael is drawn fully into insanity, and that experience, that tryst, he takes a step back to see the situation for what it is. He realizes that his “marriage” with Queequeg is more important than some passionate and deadly fling with a white whale, unobtainable.

Further on in Moby-Dick we reach a chapter alluding to the experienced and the inexperienced, or tainted and innocent. The Pequod eventually runs into other ships. One of those ships happens to be called the Jungfrau. Now, for those of you who spechen sie Deutsch, you know that this means one thing (well two things): Young Girl; essentially, as Melville puts it: virgin. The Jungfrau is depicted as fickle, green, frolicking, along the sea in hopes of finding a whale. The ship is presented as empty, or as needing to be filled. And what does the Pequod do? The Pequod fills her with all of the material she needs, the materials being made of spermaceti. The symbolic, and literal, references to being filled with sperm are obvious. This experienced ship is moving along, looking for its experienced prize, Moby Dick, when it finds the Jungfrau in need, wanting, begging for backing, it must attend to pressing issues. They press near. So, the Pequod takes it upon itself to satisfy the longings of the Jungfrau and give her special attention. Satisfied, the Jungfrau carries on and leaves the Pequod watching from afar, in anger. The Pequod feels hurt and rejected, and ironically, used. It is almost as if the virgin has escaped the grasp of the Pequod, the social constructs of marriage, and carried on. In this instance the foreplay was quick, and then followed by back breaking agony, and action, in excitement for the chase of a useless whale, as Starbuck cries, “Come, why don’t some of ye bust a blood-vessel?” The Pequod is ever wanting, and ever frustrated. The Jungfrau is off on to the next big thing, leaving the Pequod behind as damaged goods, with less of a load. Hurt by this prospect the Pequod can only become more morose and sensitive to finding what it must have, Moby Dick.

In the chapter Schools and Schoolmates, Ishmael gives us one more hint of foreshadowing, and sexual frustration. He ejaculates, “Like a venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though she keeps so many moody secrets.” (p 307) Ishmael himself is the sole survivor, left as an orphan to the water. He is himself the child born out of a “moody” experience, his “secret” encounter and companionship with Queequeg, and his unfortunate journey commanded by the “Nature” of Ahab. Ahab has finally had an experience with Moby Dick, yet it proved fatal, and not without great warning. Ishmael puts forth an idea about the secrets of sexual nature, through a man, Daniel Boone, and through a woman, Nature, proper. Sexually speaking these labels cannot be attained, discretely. Declassifying gender is not Ishmael’s purpose, but creating a sexual urge about a seemingly asexual object that declassifies gender is. The sexual object to Ahab is Moby Dick, the sexual object to Ishmael is a cannibal, and the womb of these interactions is the sea. Ishmael floats in vitro for two days before being found by the Rachel. All else on the Pequod perish. The pressure, and frustration built up from such an encounter created a deadly reaction, gave new life to Ishmael. Ishmael through experience because the experienced man he so desired to become. By way of not building up such an idol of his sexual importance he did not succumb to the demise of those interactions, he was birthed out of them.

Moby-Dick explains many things in great detail, but what it falls to explain absolutely is its narrator. The reader is given volume upon volume of whale theory and idea. Moby-Dick gives much about the physicality of whales, and delves into whale psychology, yet very little about Ishmael as a person is discussed: “my Lord Whale has no taste for the nursery” could explain the orphanage of Ishmael in the end. Moreover, “he leaves his anonymous babies all over the world; every baby an exotic.” By the end of the book we truly do not know Ishmael from Adam, or Noah. He tells us to call him Ishmael, as a sexual partner may introduce himself, but we have not the slightest inkling of his past, where he comes from, who he is really. His identity is blank canvas as one is before their birth, his trip on the Pequod is his creation, and his being discovered by the Rachel is the beginning of his life. His frustration as a human being, sexually, begins for him exactly at the end of the book. Before this he is just another passenger led astray by the emotions and sexual needs of others, as having been born.

Also, Moby-Dick has the word dick in it.

Melville’s critique of sexuality, by way of Moby-Dick is astonishing. This great novel, in size and in literature merit, carries heavy meaning. On the surface one can perhaps safely assume Moby-Dick is about the Pequod and its deranged captain attempting to exact vengeance upon a white whale named Moby Dick. However, when looked at closely, readers can see how this carries over into the prospect of attaining a sexual partner, or experience, and the trials and tribulation in relation to both. Moby-Dick is large in foreplay and little in action, though the action seems to outweigh the words, in experience. One can gam through a whole novel, give examples, show and tell; however, what trumps that speech, that language, is actually going out and experiencing it firsthand, getting a piece of the action. In doing that, experiencing, the aggression, sexually, and vengefully, all aboard, save for Ishmael, the lone survive, perished in this dire pursuit to obtain the unobtainable, this appealing encounter. Comparatively speaking, Melville’s iteration of knowledge and experience, in information and action, depict the makeup of foreplay and sex in real-life. Moby-Dick exhibits both of these devices, and shows the negative aspects and the pressures which come from the discussion of experience, and the actual experience.

Work Cited
Melville, Herman, and Hershel Parker. Moby-Dick. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.

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Boys Don’t Cry, and then People Die

Boys Don't Cry Poster

Boys Don’t Cry Poster

Boys Don’t Cry carries from start to finish with an emphasis on light, perspective, violence, and deception. One thing to note especially about Boys Don’t Cry is the beginning and ending are the same: the audience is given a car on a dark highway, traveling to anywhere, driven by a female character. The lights are out of focus and what is dark surrounds. This set-up and finish could be symbolism of the protagonist Teena “Brandon” Brandon. Hilary Swank, who pulls off a Justin Bieber/young Matt Damon in this film, is astonishingly believable as a soon-to-be F to M gendered person. She moves in the night, in the shadows, sans good light, and those around her can’t really pin-point her basis, or what she actually is. Her foundation is out of focus. Peirce captures this incredibly well, and that is what makes this movie so gripping, its honesty. The audience does not know what is coming next… That is honest. Life is not scripted, anything can happen. It could be physical violence, romantic sexual expression, or a drunken domestic outburst centered round the most sacred part of the house, a living room. The beauty of Boys Don’t Cry is the reality it mimics, the unknown- and not knowing.

Sexuality within the film focuses on “Brandon” trying to find love, find himself/herself, while moving around just trying to exist, survive. He deceives all those around him by not being straightforward about his situation; he is not a man. Brandon comes into a precarious situation by way of alcohol and drugs, and probably chance. The audience is taken in, first-hand, as Brandon is. He build relationships and is pitted against what would seem “normal” or “average” antagonists, against an ambivalent character. Brandon tries to be macho in respect to Lana’s ex-lover, felon, Brandon tries to win the heart of Lana. Role reversals within Boys Don’t Cry seem shocking; Brandon is raped (as a woman), Lana is intrigued that Brandon is actually female, and the drunken mother. I think the message within the film is that there is a duality to each situation. It is not so much about labels, blame, or deception (everyone is to blame within Boys Don’t Cry), but rather how it makes you feel, and for what purpose. That is the most important bit.

Lana and Brandon seemed in love, as opposed to Lana and her ex-lover, total drunk loser. There was a peace in the atmosphere when Lana was with Brandon that took her out of the “Hell” which was her living situation. And that all came to a violent end.

Kimberly Peirce’s directing utilizes fast cuts and manipulated lighting, not to mention the set, makeup, and overall appeal of the environment which is being imagined. It appears to me that most of the scenes take place at night or in the dark, or in sorted establishments. This filter affects one’s perception of reality, characters who appear in the dark, are not as they appear during the day. Fast cuts emphasize the fast pace of the movie, there exists this whirlwind love affair which is bound to become disastrous and volatile. Swank’s general presence gave me an uneasy feeling; I wonder, if one can be so convincingly conjured that no one is to know the difference, who around us is real? And what is “real”? Does it matter as much as the feeling that individual gives off? This not knowing of what is “real” creates the tension that eventually leads to the climactic ending.

The culmination of the film was shocking; people got shot, in the head. The interesting thing is the passing of the torch at the end. We have another character touched so much by Brandon’s ambition, concepts, and love that she embarks on what was to be his journey. The dangers of deception, manipulation, and drunken violence transcend intent (as good as it may have been), hence why Brandon was eventually killed. Boys Don’t Cry is a powerful film with a poignant and tragic message; people are still concerned with labels and other peoples’ sexual preferences, so much so that they will carry out violent acts in retaliation.

Equal parts Equal; Gilda and everyone else

Gilda_trailer_hayworth1            Gilda is a striking and beautifully shot movie, Rita Hayworth’s talent highlights this quintessential noir.  Silhouetted characters, shadows, and hazy deception are used heavily throughout the film.  Straight on glam shots pose as useful with a starlet such as Rita Hayworth, especially when showing character interaction.  We see long profile shots with facial manipulation, a sexual allure; smoke drifting out of the frame, darting doe eyes, the introduction of the character of Gilda being a prime example.  The camera shows the men walking up a flight of stairs, a woman’s voice in the background, and then we see her.  They have essentially found their queen herself in her castle, falling all over her newly found luxury and fine garments.  Front and center, there is nothing else in the shot but Gilda.  From this point on the movie is changed.  These men, unsuspecting as they were, have their worlds turned upside down by what seems to be love, or possession of something labeled as “love”, or this amazing woman, Gilda.

Subtle hints in direction fill up every moment of the film.  Gilda starts out with the roll of dice- literally, face first into the camera, from the ground up.  I suppose this captures the entire concept of the plot; Johnny moves from the ground up, then someone dies on the floor.  We see the roll, the gamble, and the pan up.  The viewer is given insightful narrative of the sorted people around the protagonist, and the need to leave, and then Johnny is caught in a dark alleyway, gun to his back.  He has come to the end of the line.  This is when we meet Ballin Mundson, a casino owner.  Ironically, Johnny is saved by the very knife that will in the end kill his would be killer; the person who once saved him from his would be killer, Mr. Mundson.  Why is this well-dressed casino owner in this dark and mysterious alleyway saving an inconsequential bum’s life?  Is Johnny his patsy?  We won’t find out until later, but the opening scene has it all.

I feel Johnny’s life being spared is an ode to living by the sword dying by the sword for Ballin, considerably when we see how quick he is to make sharp and drastic decisions, such as, nixing the Number 2 Black Roulette man.  We see Ballin walking around with an innocuous looking cane, and then boom, the next moment it’s a blade ready to slice at whatever, or whoever is in the way.  Also this plays into Johnny and Gilda, when they are ready to do whatever, whenever to get whatever they want whenever.  They are sharp and ready to monopolize on any advantage.  They attempt to cut each other down with jealousy, words, possessive antics, and cold stares, at times without being detected.

Gilda gives these men power.  She becomes the third-wheel in what is a seemingly well-oiled machine for a business/relationship.  It is later revealed that both Johnny and Gilda come from the same knit.  They are very similar, if not spouses (which I assume they were).  Mr. Mundson essentially loses his mind because he cannot control the movements of his bride.  In a sense the director has created Gilda as a possession, an object, whoever has this possession is in charge, yet Gilda has plans of her own, clearly.  She does whatever she wants, she doesn’t ask for permission, and she is outspoken- rather risqué for the time (1946).  The men appear pensive and timid, especially in times of dealing with lover’s betrayal.  The culmination of this pent up aggression results in violence towards Gilda, and further deception by Ballin, the one we believe is being deceived (when he fakes his own death, excessively: plane crash/explosion into the ocean).  The director may be giving a nod to the idea of equality, equating Johnny and Gilda, and Ballin to Johnny and Gilda.  Everyone is pretty much equal in their betrayal and deception.

Johnny starts from the bottom and quickly rises to the top, as Gilda eventually does, as Ballin once did himself.  Johnny even expresses to Mr. Mundson, something to the effect of, “I taught her everything she knows.”  I feel as though both Johnny and Gilda have fallen in love with the same man, and again with each other, for similar reasons: security.  Johnny’s almost effeminate appearance and boyish charm seem lover-boyish, also his jealousy towards Gilda and Ballin’s relationship with Gilda shows the love he has for the man, and for Gilda.

Another interesting theme in the movie is the barbershop attendant, who looks like the Wizard of Oz, who always acknowledges Johnny as peasant, as if even if he has all of these lavish material possessions, power, he is still the same at heart, a lowly peasant.  One can compare this to the love/hate relationship he has with Gilda, even if he appears different now, he is still very much in love with Gilda all the same, and powerless to her charm.