Friday, April 27, 2018

since when can weathermen predict the weather?

I

see a lot of movies by myself. Hell, I see most movies that I see by myself. There is often overlap with my ex-wife's viewing habits where we can have conversations about certain movies, but mostly, it's me, and, well...

You

 

 

 

 

 

An audience that cannot--at least in any particularly meaningful fashion--talk back. So, it's just me and the screen, usually my iPad, that has been a fixture of this blog since before I even had a smartphone or a fire stick or a moviepass. Sometimes, rare times, I want more. Like after I saw I Feel Pretty a few days ago, or after Infinity War just this afternoon. I want to walk out of the theater talking about what we just saw, start digesting it at least in a shallow way as it settles.

I had a few ideas recently about new ways of doing all this, reacting to, responding to, conversing with all the various movies I put into my head. I've even made some steps toward one of them, and I had this feeling like that lead-up week to Day 1 of this very blog. I've told this story before, but I can't recall when. I could wake up my smartphone and do a search, and I'd probably find it, but you know what's fun. Telling stories time and time again, no matter their detail, no matter their depth, no matter their meaning. Like watching movies on repeat.

I went to a screening of Groundhog Day in Old Town Pasadena. An outdoor screening, projected up onto the wall at One Colorado. My son's with me. And, between the time that screening started and the time it ended my life had changed. Somewhere in there I was reminded of Lawrence, Julie & Julia Project and I was feeling listless (though grad school was about to get started). I went home, I secured groundhogdayproject.com, I set up a Twitter account and a Facebook page (neither of which will I link now because I don't use them anymore; I just use my personal Twitter and Facebook.

(I checked on the availability of another URL this past week. It was available.)

A week later, August 2nd (which in retrospect was a day off because if I chickened out on doing a year, the six months done would have actually happened the day before that titular holiday), I sat down at my computer, the movie playing on my iPad... Or was it the other way around? The moment of it in terms of what's come after is different than the moment at the time. I remember starting--and I don't want to check the actual wording--with something about how I never wrote a review of Groundhog Day. No. It was something like, I don't think I've ever written a review, yada yada yada. I knew damn well I hadn't written one. I only reviewed new movies at my other, entirely irregular blog. But, I was jumping into a sea I was not entirely prepared for and I was protecting myself with... What is that? It's not self-deprecation. But, there's an armor in the casualness of that wording.

And, now I break down and double check the exact wording, because obsession is my middle name.

"I've never written a review of Groundhog Day, as far as I know."

Such simplistic bullshit. While implying something bigger. Like there's this possibility that I've written so many reviews that I have no idea what I have or have not written. I was already inventing a persona for myself. I just didn't... I was going to say that I didn't realize it. But, I think I realized what I was doing, I just might not yet have had a full grasp of what it meant. I would end up writing my master's thesis about the construction of self on the Internet, so, there was more to discover, or at least to label. I had certainly been playing on the internet for a while at that point. I first made my website--still hosted in the exact same location--in April 1999. I was relatively new to the Internet then but I had been online before. Message boards. BBSs (or however you pluralize BBS). Hell, my first experience talking to other people via modem was in the late 80s, just a few years after Back to the Future--which is playing right now, even though I don't think I have anything else to say about it that hasn't already been said in all of the ranting I've done for 1364 previous blog entries about so many other movies.

I did have a thought today, though, about what movies meant to me when I was a kid. About, maybe, some key I might subconsciously have been looking for this past year, delving back into movies that were on repeat during my childhood. I've said before that I grew up thinking I didn't have a future. Literally. End of the world literally. The thing that I thought of today--and this relates to the ending of Infinity War but I don't think I will bother SPOILING it here--was that what movies offered, especially when they were available on repeat, was an infinity in the moment. Like maybe this is what captivated me in Groundhog Day in all those resumptions and repeats during the first year of this blog and (just slightly more than) every month since. If a movie ends on a down note and that down note doesn't sit right with you, you can start it over, and everyone who died is alive again. Everything that has been discovered can be found new again. Everything that has been destroyed is intact again. And, the end of the world, mortality--these things don't mean anything. Which is a weird thought considering that the end of the world and mortality are themes found in so many movies. Even Back to the Future deals in the possibility of erasure. Not death, but erasure. A comforting thought, I suppose in some of my more depressed moments. But--and maybe this is because the spring semester is nearing its end, or maybe it's because I've been fantasizing about (planning for?) new ventures--something far away from my thoughts right now. My identity can be boiled down to a handful of things if I need to simplify. Blogger is a big one. But, blogging is just one way to interact with film. I think I want to try some others.

II

So, nevermind determinism or predestination, or challenges to the same. Nevermind time travel. Nevermind Back to the Future and the specifics of what I might have gotten out of it as a child. I've said many times in this blog that movies are not just about escape. A better word might be vacation. The point to a movie is not the movie itself for me but what comes after. How does this movie affect my understanding of the world, of myself? What does the world look like when I come out of that theater? How has it changed? How have I?

Deconstructing my childhood experience with movies on repeat always left gaps for the movies that weren't on repeat. Some of those had bigger impacts in the long run. But they didn't fit this particular narrative. I imagine watching every movie that I've ever seen all over again, picking each one apart, figuring out just how I became this person I am today, sitting here on the floor, typing away on my wireless keyboard.

I want to complain about how the white pages list Doc Brown as Brown Emmet L scientist and his address is on the next line and there are (almost) no other entries like that. Which makes it a bit obvious. The other visible two line entry is Brundage Vernon E and I wonder if that's the guy who made this phone book mockup, and who is at fault for an all too thick phone book for what it supposed to still be a rather small town in 1955. There are too many Browns (hell far too many Browns with first names starting with E), and far too many Brundages. But, that's not where I am today...

I say after kind of doing just that.

Because manipulating me for the reader is quite fun.

III

So, the matter becomes a question of where I go from here. Two years ago today I ended this blog. Day 1000. I turned in my master's thesis that day as well. A year ago tomorrow--Day 1001--I picked up where I left off, same film, same thought. I drifted through a few months before settling into Phase Four, this childhood deconstruction. My "movie life" list began with Blackbeard's Ghost from 1968. It's 1985 now. I'm nine years old. I've already got plenty of movies in my head. There are many more to come.


Thursday, April 26, 2018

if grandpa hadn’t hit him, then none of you would have been born

I never really got around to talking about destiny yesterday.

Probably because I really didn't want to. There is a bit of a deterministic streak to Back to the Future, and I've written about stuff like that before in this blog. How what we call "free will" is just a long series of tiny events leading to all the inevitable decisions you will make and actions you will take. It's both entirely plausible and entirely pointless at the same time.

At the moment, I'm more interested in a couple details from the end of the film that have little to do with time travel.

1) who parked Marty's truck in the garage at that weird angle? It's impractical, and actually would have been fairly difficult. But, it shows off the truck real nice, so I guess it's good for the product placement.

2) And this is interesting because I have got to wonder if the placement is deliberate. So, the Libyans drive a blue and white VW bus. When Marty gets away in the DeLorean, they crash into a Fox Photo booth.

They probably are not dead. But, Doc Brown drives Marty home and then heads into the future, so he's not around for them to find. Except for this: how did they find him the first time? Did they follow Marty from Doc's place? Or had they already linked Marty to Doc and they had been staking out the McFly residence? If they had been staking out the McFly residence, then the other VW Bus might be a little suspicious. Especially, since it appears out of nowhere.

HBO NOW won't let me do screencaps or I'd show you. [But YouTube would.] When Doc drops Marty off at home, there's a blue truck (and I think it's a sort of old fashioned truck, too--maybe a nod to the 1955 portion of the film--but I don't know what make and model it is) parked across the street. There's a car parked on the McFly side of the street.

And, the next driveway down has a striped van in it. When Doc arrives the next morning to pick Marty up, that blue truck is still across the street. As Doc initially talks to Marty and then grabs trash for Mr. Fusion, there seems to be the same car as the night before parked on the McFly side of the street. The striped Van is gone, but it's like 10:30 in the morning on a Saturday; maybe they had somewhere to go. But, now that it's light out, we can see that in a driveway across the street there is a blue van. Then things change.

The wide shot of the street, DeLorean backing out of the McFly's driveway, shows that parked in front of that car on their side of the street is a yellow VW Bus. (Also, in this shot, we can see the blue truck and the blue van, and it's like someone accidentally deconstructed the blue VW Bus from the night before.) And, I find myself wondering if there are armed Libyans in that Bus. And, now Marty is flying off into the future with Doc Brown and those Libyans are going to take the McFlys hostage while (though that "while" is debatable) Marty is off getting a hoverboard and fancy shoes.

So, I find myself trying to recall the order of events of the sequels--especially Part II--rather than paying much attention to the original playing on my TV. First thing's first, I find Part II on HBO NOW and start it playing on my phone, see the reenactment of the end of the original with Jennifer recast. Because they seem to have cut original shots in with the new ones, it's fairly seemless.

But, as I'm obsessing about background vehicles right now, I notice a red pickup truck in a driveway across the street that wasn't there before, and I wonder what kind of time travel incident altered Jennifer's face and put that pickup there but doesn't seem to have changed much else... Except maybe it did change a lot else. Like maybe just down the street, past those Lyon Estates signs, there is a zombie apocalypse going on. Also, there is a VW Bus parked at the curb, and already visible as Doc comes over to talk to Marty. But, it's not yellow. It's green.

It also seems to switch which property it is parked in front of from shot to shot.

But, that just makes me think that it is the Libyans, and they've seen Doc arrive, and they backed up to figure out how they're going to approach him this time. They did see him die last night--or so they think.

The blue van is briefly replaced by a blue car.

The van is yellow again for the wide shot, because they're just reusing the original footage. And, the added bit with Biff running out to show Marty the new matchbooks for his detailing company is weird, because Biff's truck is gone from the driveway, was already gone from the driveway in the original sequence, and I thought he left after the arrival of George's books. But, they've got to set up Biff's plot-driving role for this more convoluted mid-trilogy film. This also allows for some dodgy CGI as the DeLorean lifts off the ground, and that red truck has been replaced by a camper, because the background vehicles are both random (and maybe just the locals' vehicles) and (maybe) deliberate.

Anyway, after Doc knocks out Jennifer for some reason, she eventually faints when she comes face to face with her 2015 self. She is unconscious when they return to 1985. This 1985, they will figure out later, is different from the one they left because Biff has done his almanac thing that is basically the main plot of this one. I remember some talk about how the repaired timeline would reshape itself around Jennifer, but the transition from Part II to Part III has nothing to do with 1985, so we won't get back to Jennifer again until the end of the trilogy. At the end of Part III, Marty returns to 1985 (the repaired version) and Jennifer is still on the porch where they left her. She remembers the visit to 2015.

My question here is this: in this version of 1985, Doc still got the plutonium from the Libyans, right? So, after Doc flies away on his train with Clara and their kids, does Marty go home to find Libyan terrorists have taken over the house and are holding his family (and maybe Biff) hostage? Where is that movie? And, why does Doc get to say damn the consequences and Marty's going to end up dead in an violent interactions with Libyan terrorists?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

my density has popped me to you

I like to find in-universe reasons for things even if practical behind-the-scenes reasons explain stuff. That's a given. One that caught my attention watching Back to the Future yesterday was Doc Brown's photos of scientists. In 1955, he has four of them on his mantel--Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. So, it took the second viewing in as many days to notice that in the opening tracking shot, there are just three of these photos hanging by Doc's bed in his 1985 abode--the garage of his old house (which burned down and then he sold off the property--

and which exists (the filming location anyway) next to a Burger King that is still there--and I forgot about heading there after work to get a photo... His 1955 house exterior--the Gamble House--still exists not too far from here as well, but I didn't get over there either. I would love it if I had time to get to every nearby location--and living in LA, there are a lot, for many a film--but, alas, there are often other errands to be run, other tasks to be done.

And yet, for some reason, I've been thinking of new things to do beyond this blog again, lately. Because, I operate under the illusion--or maybe it's my reality; I don't really know--that I thrive when I've got too much going on. I also tend toward downward spirals into depression, but maybe that and thriving are the same thing sometimes. Anyway, more on that another day. I actually had a specific thing to talk about today...)

--per the newspaper headline that Doc has framed for some reason.)--and the one that is missing is Isaac Newton. Here:

1955:


1985:

Newton is missing, and I want to know why. Or I want to imagine why. Because a film that deals so much in predestination and course correction and all the usual time travel tropes feels like something where every little detail should mean something. To be fair, certain details, like Mayor Goldie Wilson, and potential ex-mayor, homeless guy Red, have nothing to do with the plot. They are just dressing to draw attention to time period differences. Mayor Strickland and his lack of hair--it's funny, because we laugh at baldness, because we're assholes, but it really doesn't matter to the story. Remove him from the film and the story still plays. It doesn't really tell us anymore about Marty that he gets caught when he's late for school thats it does that he is regularly late for school. But, I talked about the lack of a real character arc, or serious characterization outside of reacting to the situation, for Marty yesterday. (But, it's worth noting, especially if you follow Cinema Sins videos, that being late as a character beat is overdone and mostly pointless.)

And, is it wrong that I wish that the twelve wooden crates filled with cocaine that washed ashore in Boca Raton (the other news story in the opening shot) tied into the plot like the stolen plutonium? Or, does it? Is that why Doc seems so wired? He's doing nothing but cocaine and research.

Another Sidenote: I only realized this week rewatching this movie that the "Hill Valley Preservation Society" doesn't want to fix the clock tower. For three decades plus I've thought that old lady was taking donations to fix the clock, but she specifically says the mayor wants to fix it but the preservation society wants it to stay just how it is.

Also, the age makeup for George and Lorraine and Biff feels a decade too old. They are in their late 40s, but look older.

But, what I really wanted to talk about today was destiny. Or at least what Back to the Future has to tell us about destiny.

But then, the Doc distracts me, because leaving Einstein sitting outside the truck, but not (apparently) to signal Marty's arrival--Einstein doesn't make a sound--is weird.

And the double meaning of "You disintegrated Einstein" is kind of clever.

But destiny--

Or Newton. I'm looking up Newton to suggest a specific reason that Newton is the picture Doc has either misplaced (or at least separated from the other three). And I find myself reading something about optics and I get sidetracked thinking about Annihilation for reasons beyond this blog.

Also, Marty is not good at time travel. You do not announce that you've seen a tv show in a rerun (even though reruns did exist at the time). You just laugh along and act natural, damn it. And, knowing at this point that you're in 1955, you don't claim that a street is John F Kennedy Dr. Just accept that it's Maple and move on. Lorraine's father is correct in calling Marty an idiot.

But, destiny... Does Marty really affect the timeline? Does Doc? Or were George and Lorraine always going to get together, and the details just came down to how happy they might be?

 

 

 

 

 


Doc's confusion at Marty's use of "heavy" is also silly. Obviously, slang changes. If I meet a time traveler and every other word is "station" I might ask what it means, but I won't assume it means what I think it means. You know?

But, destiny...

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

he was a slacker, too

The opening shot of Back to the Future is almost perfect. All those clocks, the slow pan. That one clock that foreshadows the climax of the film. All of Doc Brown's morning routine--the radio and the clock, really?--and the automated machinery. Plus The plutonium is set up and gets a mini-pay off already with the end of that tracking shot.

The opening scene, if you move into the next bit, with the giant amp and Marty's particular style of "rock and roll", also sets up both a defining characteristic of Marty McFly--he tends toward too much--and a particular problem in what is often considered to be a flawless film. Seriously, people study this screenplay as an ideal example of screenwriting. (Nevermind, of course, the multiple drafts it took to get to the final product.) And it is fantastic in terms of structure, in terms of setup and payoff. Every scene serves a purpose. Characters and events all interact just so. But--and I've written a bit about this, for example, in connection with Star Wars Rogue One--some people like more of a character arc than Marty gets. Take one aspect of who he is--his music--the opening scene tells us what we need to know. he takes his music too far. In that first scene, it explodes the amp and knocks Marty across a room.

At the school audition, he and the Pinheads are "just too darn loud" and Marty laments, "We'll never get a chance to play in front of anybody." Jennifer tells him that "one rejection isn't the end of the world." We, of course, know nothing about his music other than what we just saw. He isn't untalented, but you gotta know your audience. "I just don't think I'm cut out for music," he says. Jennifer replies--and we have to trust her: "But you're really good, and your audition tape is great. You've got to send it in to the record company." That last line is just vague enough as to be both supportive and useless. The record company, as if there is only one. She adds a line that is a little strange--"It's like Doc's always saying... If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Except we never hear Doc say it (we do hear George say it in the new present at the end of the film, but he heard it from Marty) and it took Doc 30 years to accomplish his latest anything. And it took George those same thirty years to get his first novel published. I don't think Marty wants to wait that long. (Also--and I didn't want to bring the sequels into this just yet--Marty will not manage to make a living as a musician.) Marty offers up a line that George will echo in 1955 later: "What if I send in the tape and they don't like it? What if they say I'm no good? What if they say, 'You've got no future'? I can't take that kind of rejection." (Then, quite aptly, Marty adds, "I'm starting to sound like my old man.")

An aside: in the middle of that conversation, we get another bit of Marty's personality, although there is no payoff to this one. He checks out two girls who walk by in workout clothes. And Jennifer notices, but does very little about it. But, maybe she knows that Marty is too much of a coward to chase after someone else. Except, he's not really a coward to fear rejection. The coward thing--the chicken thing--that doesn't really become a thing until the second film, and then too much of a thing (like when "Bazinga" became a thing in the second season of Big Bang Theory and they wrote it like that was something Sheldon has always said). Marty is not afraid of being called "chicken", he's afraid of being nothing, and quite thematically appropriately, of being told he has no future. (That is something it seems Principal Strickland tells him all the time, but teenagers don't listen to teachers or principals, so that's probably in one ear and out the other.)

It isn't that Marty doesn't have musical talent/skill. He plays just fine when he's with the Starlighters (not to be confused with Starfighters), but even there, when he's given the chance to do his own thing, he takes it too far, has everyone in the room staring at him like's the alien he pretended to be a few nights earlier in his father's bedroom. The scene is funny. But it also demonstrates that Marty really hasn't learned anything about himself. He already had that line about sounding like his old man, even before he went back in time and learned that George was creative. That he maybe got his wandering eyes--which literally have no impact on any part of the story so don't feel all that important--from his mother doesn't mean much. So, what has Marty learned?

For that matter, who is Marty McFly? Who was he when the movie began and has he changed? At all.

At best, he had his fantasy of playing in front of an audience fulfilled and maybe that would give him the confidence to work toward it in the present. (There is actually a possible clue that this is the case, retroactively--like his father's confidence helped him be more confident, but that timeline just hasn't caught up to Marty yet, and maybe won't. Going by the second film, we can see that the timeline adjusts around Marty, not through him. He is still the same person he was before (but a week older).) That clue: Marty emerges from his bedroom in the new present with a padded envelope in hand, maybe it’s that audition tape, ready to be sent, and maybe he’s wondering who put it in an envelope because he surely didn’t.

Monday, April 23, 2018

i’m going to be around to see 1985

Movies blend together sometimes. That's the life of a person like me, watching movies all the time for decades. Marty talks about how great that 4x4 is and wants to take it up to the lake, and I'm thinking of the 4x4 from the opening sequence of The Goonies and the lake trips from The Last Starfighter.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I realize there might be very little to actually say about Back to the Future. I almost watched the trilogy a few years ago in time for the 30th anniversary, but opted not to because of this very problem.

One thing, though: when Doc first drives the DeLorean out of his truck and gets out, there's smoke inside of both. And, some weird tube thing attached to Doc's hand--

--and I think we can assume Doc has been sitting in that truck smoking something special (like the band later in the movie) while he waits for Marty's arrival and his own potential demise. It ain't just head injuries that put DeLorean time machines in your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I found a flaw. Lorraine's dad sets up a tv on a moving stand so they can "watch Jackie Gleason while we eat" as if it's just the moving bit that is new, but a moment later Lorraine tells Marty, "Our first television set. Dad just picked it up today."

 

 

 

 

 

And, back to movies blending together. Marty steals that kid's scooter like Brand stole that other kid's bicycle.

 

 

 

 

 

And, I'm just sitting here, enjoying the movie and reading about the Westermarck Effect and theorizing how it actually makes sense that Lorraine would be attracted to Marty under the circumstances.

And thinking a bit about the future.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

keep going this far down, we’ll reach china

I was raised white. Let me just be honest about that. Born in the 70s, much of my formative development happened during the Reagan 80s and I can't change that. I can't change who I am in that regard, no matter what I do. I saw a lot of movies with hypermasculine heroes killing a lot of foreigners. I saw a lot of random women bare their breasts for a paycheck because the Internet hadn't been invented yet and that kind of thing wasn't available for free. (Weirdly, the new thing these days, in the... Twenty tens? Is showing a penis in your film because that's subversive or something. But, penises are available for free on the Internet, too, so it is a bit... Deliberate, I suppose. All those years exploiting all those young women, I supposed it's fair play that male actors have to show their penises whether they like it or not. Because fuck men, especially white men. They've had the power for far too long.

Like One-Eyed Willy. I mean, who does he think he is? He's got all that treasure. Somehow, he attracts the ire of the British king--even though the Spanish would have been more likely to get involved on the western American coast in 1632--and he gets him and his men trapped in a cave outside Astoria. (Except Astoria didn't exist yet. Wouldn't exist for another century and a half.) And, you not only remain there as your men repair the ship, but you have them also set traps for a bunch of adolescents even farther into the future than the town of Astoria, because that is what a pirate does. And, one of them is Asian, which is offensive because if you've got just one Asian, you can' take him the clever one who makes odd contraptions because that draws on stereotypes about wise Asians, and positive stereotypes are still stereotypes you pirate bastard. Then, there's also the fat stereotype, who is a klutz more interested in a snack than anything else. And, like many a fat character from the 1980s he will inexplicably wear checkered pants (Ricky from Better Off Dead comes to mind in particular, but who wants to be thinking about Dan Schneider at a time like this?) when he would be more likely to wear jeans or tough skins. Because that is what us fat kids wore in the mid 80s. Well, to be fair, I wore tough skins because the private school where I was being trained as a Christian--and, while my white cisgender male training would hold, my Christian training wouldn't quite take over time--did not allow us to wear denim. I actually don't know why. Probably something to do with those commercials with topless young girls bragging about how they don't wear anything under their Calvins. Jeans were too sexy and sex was an anathema unless you were married, and I was never going to be married because the world was going to end in an atomic firestorm and Jesus was going to swoop in and forgive us all for sins like shallow Asian stereotypes in popular movies. Because, Jesus was cool like that.

On the one hand, it's unfair to expect every single character to represent everyone who might be similar. Data's Asianness, for example, is never actually commented on within the context of the film. He's just Data, good (and occasionally bad) with gadgets, and he gets bullied apparently (see Bully Blinders!), but switch Sean Astin and Ke Huy Quan and Mikey is still a doofus who gets words wrong, but Data becomes less of a stereotype... Or at least a different stereotype, one that isn't racist. He becomes a nerdy white kid. (Also, you would have to cut that dumb line about seeing Data's auntie if the tunnels go all the way down to China.) But, I suppose that's the point, isn't it? Mikey is not the brightest of kids. He messes up words all the time, he gives cheesy speeches, he tries to keep his friends away from museum property until, just a moment later, he finds something he wants broken. But, he's the white kid, so are we debating the characterization of Mikey Walsh all these years later? Of course not. Mouth is a little asshole, prone to bullying his own friends, lying to the hired help, and casually insulting everybody. But, he's white so we don't debate the characterization of Clark Devereux all these years later. We do worry a little about the characterization of Chunk, of Sloth, of Andy and Stef. Because they might be white, but they are overweight, disabled, female, and female, respectively. They didn't have the power in 1985. They were props in Mikey's story.

Except for Chunk, I suppose. He's got his own plotline wending its way through The Goonies. Plus, Jeff Cohen thinned out when he was older, and still does interviews about the movie... Plus he was white. Kids like me could connect to him. We could see ourselves up there on the screen and have the adventure of a lifetime, vicariously. In a recent AV Club piece about the documentary The Problem with Apu, Danette Chavez writes,

No one wants to think that the pop culture they love doesn't love them back, but that's the situation in which people of color (any marginalized group, really) often find themselves. They're underrepresented on screen, which makes every appearance significant--and all the more disappointing when their inclusion is limited to caricatures.

White kid is a caricature, so what? There's another three white kids right next to him (five if you count the females). But, one Asian kid. What do you do with him? Whether it's the script up front or the casting altering the script as it was--and since Spielberg knew Ke Huy Quan from Temple of Doom, it was probably a mix of both--Data becomes a stereotype. Not because the production is intent on minimizing the Asian presence. It isn't as sinister as that. It doesn't have to be. Systematic systemic racism doesn't have to be sinister, doesn't even have to be deliberate. It's just a measure of the filmmakers' imaginations that they can can imagine multiple white kids but only one Asian one. So to speak.

In a recent episode of The Simpsons, they commented a bit--some say badly--on the Apu problem. Marge edits one of her favorite books from when she was a kid because it was full of offensive elements that won't fly today. She tells Lisa, "It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book. But, now it's as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati." Lisa says, with a photo of Apu on her bedside table coming into view, "Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" And, response to this moment has been, expectedly, negative. Sure, The Simpsons has a unique problem as it has been on the air a really long time; some of its jokes, some of its characters, were "acceptable" when introduced but time has passed them by. But, the phrasing that gets me is that line about "the spirit and character" of a thing, as if the point to The Simpsons back in the day was in producing racist caricatures like Apu. Like updating such a character, fixing such a character would mean the soul of the show is somehow lessened. Jen Chaney, writing for Vulture has a great line about how this scene ends. Marge tells Lisa, "Some things will be dealt with at a later date." Los responds, "If at all." And, Chaney writes, "Then mother and daughter stare into the camera blankly as if they're being held hostage by their own cartoon." In a way, The Simpsons is being held hostage by its own longevity, but if it wants to be the clever satire it has often been, it needs to update itself.

The Goonies is a different beast, altogether in that it was released in 1985, and only in 1985. I think it's okay if we forgive past artistic product its timely offenses. More than we should forgive narrative lapses or plot holes, certainly. And, for me, looking back now on all these movies I watched a lot as a kid, I have to think of what the movie was then. For me.

I liked Data. I liked his gadgets. (Similarly, I liked Short Round, and wanted to be out there with Indiana Jones, fighting bad guys.) I liked Mouth and all his horrible shenanigans. I liked Chunk and his stories, and his immediate love for Sloth. I liked Mikey and his persistence in saving his family home. It didn't matter to me that Data was Asian. But, imagine if the lead had been the Asian kid, and the story had... something else to it because of the cultural and racial differences. Would I have liked it as much? Would we have had the movie on video and watched it often at home? Or would I have wanted to see some pop culture that looked a little bit more like me?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

i see data dropped by

I can forgive--fairly easily because I grew up in the 80s so I know how movies were with the casual racism and sexism and whatnot--that the Fratellis feels like Italian criminal stereotypes and Data is the quintessential Asian stereotype (minus some martial arts skills, but Ke Huy Quan had already done a bit of that in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) of the 1980s. Well, East Asian. If he'd been from farther west, he would have been a villain of some sort. But anyway, I can forgive that. Because, it's 1985, and America is very racist, very sexist, homophobic, and heteronormative. (Like today, only the most bigoted of us didn't have to claim so energetically how much we weren't. We just let it flow.) But, I cannot forgive Mrs. Walsh (Mary Ellen Trainor) for her racism. I mean, seriously, Mouth is a smartass little jerk, Chunk swears constantly--and Mrs. Walsh specifically dislikes swearing, mind you--but when they are both in her house, who does she notice? Whose presence does she call out? Data's. Mouth can bullshit his way to seeming charming. Chunk is just so damn lovable. But, Data? He's just so Asian.

I mean, clearly, he'd be good at math to build all those awesome things.

(Also, now that I finally pressed play on the movie for today, I would like to say that the 007 with smiley faces for the zeroes on Data's belt buckle/dart launcher is adorable.)

(Also, separate from all the racism, I must say, If not for Chunk's specificity I wouldn't be too sure about the product placement stuff with the Jeep Cherokee in the opening sequence. Mama Fratelli, sure enough, says, "Throw her into four-wheel drive and hold on to your hats," which sounds like product placement scripting. But, later, she will also, rather than saying turn on the blender, she will say "Hit purée" and when she sees a shoe print, she doesn't say follow those footprints, she says, "Follow them size fives." SPecificity is just part of her character.)

And, to be fair, Mrs. Walsh has just walked through the ripped screen door. But, she is clearly insane in some way because she tells Rosalita, "I would really like the house clean when they tear it down." That is madness. Folks force you out of your house, you leave that place as messy as you can. Plus, she thinks you can "come down" with asthma. She probably broke her arm doing something really stupid, or being racist... Although, to be fair, I'm not sure how being racist would get your arm broken.

(Sidenote: I don't believe for even a second that Mouth and Chunk and Data have not found their way into the Walsh attic many, many times while they have all been friends. There is no way they have not explored all of Mr. Walsh' sexual torture devices many, many times. Also, Mikey being so protective of that stuff does not gel with him immediately calling for Chunk to break the glass on that map when he could just open the back of the frame.)

Also, everyone who comments on Data's broken English forgets to mention that Data still has a better vocabulary than Mikey.

But, my real thought for today, is--and I think I know the answer, but the question is still worth asking from time to time--why do we have to take one character as some exemplar of every character like them? Why can't Data just be this one kid? Named Richard, by the way. Why does every single instance of some minority in whatever film from back in the day need to be some grand proof that we thought everyone like that was like that? I mean, aside from the obvious--that we populated every film with so many white folks that obviously when we put one Asian kid in-- No. Let us be specific. Ke Huy Quan is Vietnamese and Chinese. But, I think after he got attention in Temple of Doom, we all assumed he was just Chinese because we don't like nuance. So, put one Chinese kid in a movie like this, and that affects our impression of every Chinese kid around us, and our impression of every Chinese adult around us. We see Data's broken English and his obsession with invention and we find our every thought about Chinese people not conforming with our society--because our society is the end all, be all of history and reality and whatever, Murica forever!--and should be working in some IT department somewhere, or running a factory in China making computers because those things are awesome. My family had a Texas Instruments computer (the TI-99 (released in 1980), I think) sometime early in the 80s. I don't know exactly when. We later had a Commodre +4 (released in 1984). I remember programming in BASIC on both of those machines. I remember checking out Micro Adventure novels from the library in Hastings Ranch--they were basically Choose Your Own Adventure novels but with basic (BASIC) computer programs tied to the story. The only specific one I remember produced an animated gate opening on the screen when a gate opening was part of the story. Basic stuff. BASIC stuff. I'd have an IBM-style PC somewhere around 1990. For a computer class in high school I would write an animation thing in BASIC that involved a battle between the USS Enterprise and the Death Star, and you got to choose who won at the start of the battle, and it played the theme to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Because I was into that then.

But, 1985. America. Racism. We could have a kid like Mikey, who could barely handle a vocab quiz but damn it, he could get sentimental about pirates because... reasons. Or because, in the crappie you cheesy dialogue of 1985, "It's our time. It's our time, down here." Because, that is what kids like me want to hear. The characters might be younger, but MArtha Plimpton was 15, Josh Brolin was 16, Kerri Green was 17. These were the oldest of the Goonies.*

(*Technically, Andy was not a Goonie at the start of the story. But, Brad declared her one, so I guess by the third act she was one.)

Adults are either absent through most of the film, or they are the villains. (John Matuszak is the exception, and there are those who say that The Goonies has us "laughing at the physically and mentally disabled" but the whole point to Sloth is that by the end of the film, we are with him. Like Chunk (and common complaints about size-shaming)--the character is so captivating that the initial distancing detail goes away and we are there with them. Data is a dorky Asian kid. Chunk is a fat kid who can smell ice cream. (And, who can't, really?) Sloth is deformed (and I would argue that he is not necessarily mentally disabled so much as he has been kept from any formal education, but then, he should at least speak as well as Madison in Splash.) but we get past that.

(Quick sidenote, and maybe it's connected: there is a guy with an eyepatch in the shower at the country club when the Goonies mess with all those pipes. It feels random, arbitrary.)

If we connect with the characters--including Data, including Chunk, including Sloth--then how offensive are they?

I mean, for white people. There's plenty of room for people of East Asian descent to complain about the characterization of Data, or for people of weight (TM Robert E G Black, 2018) to complain about the characterization of Chunk, or for physically (or mentally) deformed people to complain about the characterization of Sloth, but I do a google search and find folks that are not claiming any of those identities but, like us SJWs at our best, are denouncing the presentation in this film anyway, because fuck the 1980s, fuck casual racism, and sexism and ableism.

And, for that matter, fuck lazy scripting that has Chunk in desperate search for food but then magically has him have a Baby Ruth in his pocket when it will be useful to get Sloth going.

Oh, wait. That's an entirely different issue.