Wednesday, December 24, 2008
With impeccable timing, Kelly Reichardt has brought a genuine, relevant tale of struggle in the modern age with her latest film, Wendy and Lucy. Michelle Williams plays Wendy, a woman traveling the United States with her dog, Lucy, in hopes of making it to Alaska where she hears "they need people" in the canning industry.
Unfortunately for Wendy and Lucy, Wendy's car breaks down in not-so-nice small town Indiana. After being arrested for shoplifting by a young grocery clerk wearing a very large cross, Lucy, who had been tied up outside the store, goes missing. What ensues over the next hour is totally heartbreaking.
This is a short film. Its goals, in terms of what is actually presented on screen, are small. But the value of what you carry with you as you leave the theater is remarkable. It's a relief to see such subtle and beautiful film-making with so many bloated movies this year (The Dark Knight, Rachel Getting Married). Ms. Reichardt proves that you don't need extra reels to create drama.
Most of the success of film is thanks to the performance of Michelle Williams. Wendy at first seems hardened and stiff. But, as the film goes on, there are moments that endear her to us. In what seems like perhaps the most stoic and selfless performance of the year, Ms. Williams paints a realistic portrait of life for many Americans, trapped in lackluster jobs, or without jobs at all, no help from family or friends. There is no peacocking in Ms. Williams performance. It is her, the character, and the camera. While her approach might be understated, her talent shines through in abundance. Ms. Williams is a real actor; she wants to tell stories and she wants to feel the people she plays.
With the economic downturn and the massive lay-offs over the past few months, I imagine there will be a plethora of films and books which will appeal to our need for escapism. The success of Twilight seems proof of this. But I hope that underneath the radar there will be more films like Wendy and Lucy, that explore the absence of wealth and security in a world that demands these things from us. One of the most beautiful things about this petite work of art is its bravery in confronting human nature head-on. And, while we have high hopes for 2009, the world is changing rapidly. The time to define ourselves is now.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
So, that's not entirely true. I'm still literate, but 2008 has been a bleak year for me in terms of readership. I have Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter to thank for my dwindling attention span. I don't know if you've noticed, but the internet is highly addictive. Now, I'm not one of those poor iPhone-owning saps who walks around checking their e-mail every five seconds, but when I'm at work, I am constantly plugged-in.
In more ways than one, the internet is an amazing tool. One can educate herself on just about anything under the sun: there's an endless array of information. We're reminded to take everything we read on Wikipedia with a grain of salt, but I can't help but read an entry as it's usually the first thing that appears when I want to do a search for, say, Rasputin. So who knows if all the knowledge I'm amassed on important topics like Gout can really be considered knowledge.
Ultimately, I'm obsessed with the connectivity of the internet. At any moment, I can keep tabs on all my friends and acquaintances. I can exchange ideas with people I barely know. Hell, I've even fostered friendships purely online. (Luckily, these have developed into real-life friendships as well). But all these clicks of my mouse and the comforting sound of keyboard has made me impossible to entertain. I can no longer read novels. If I'm not enraptured by the first page, I feel a wave of disgust come over me. Rageful, I want to throw the book out of a speeding train.
(Side note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer also gets an honorable mention for detering me from my literary purusits. I don't know if you remember, but I started watching the series back in June, and I finished the complete series---all seven seasons---last week. I don't regret watching the entire series. Buffy has become a very important part of my cultural topography . . . but seven seasons, at about thirteen episodes a season, in forty-five minute increments: let's see, that's about . . . um . . . I can't do the math. Let's just say it's a lot of time).
This year, I've done a better job of trying to be more social and see more of my friends, regardless of inclimate weather or lack of sleep. On top of that, I try to get my poor, poor butt to the gym at least three times a week. I also, as of the last eight months, have enjoyed the company of a very lovely, miraculous young man, also known as my boyfriend. Oh, and then there's my job, where I read mostly terrible manuscripts and am oftentimes discouraged with the future of literature as a whole. I'm a busy girl! I don't have time to read.
It's easy for me to forget what a voracious reader I used to be. That upon reading Mrs. Dalloway for the first time as a Junior in high school, I devoted my entire summer before my senior year to reading everything Virginia Woolf ever wrote. And I mean that: every diary entry, every letter, every novel, every work of nonfiction, all collected essays, etc etc etc. I basically read a book or more a day. In addition to my self-imposed Woolf symposium, I managed to read a contemporary novel here and there: namely, Middlesex, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.
So what the hell happened?
The Internet happened.
My adult life happened.
New York happened.
In conclusion, I'd like to give a shout out to the ten books I began this year . . .
and never finished:
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James
The Sleepwalkers, by Hermann Broch
The Book of Memories, by Peter Nadas
Sentimental Education, by Gustave Flaubert
The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron
Loving, Living and Partygoing, by Henry Green
Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill
For the record! I did read:
Roberto Bolano's massive 2666,
Werner Herzog's brief but beautiful Of Walking in Ice,
One of the most terrifying novels I've ever read, Never Let Me Go,
The charming, whimsical Zuleika Dobson,
and, my favorite read of the year, the devestating and ultimate Sophie's Choice.
It's on, facebook. It is ON.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
As a straight woman with several close gay friends, I have always been a fervent supporter of gay rights. In high school, I stood by them at the gay pride parade in Atlanta and I've been a member of the Human Rights Campaign since I was seventeen years old. But the struggle for gay rights is more than a personal issue: it is an issue of life and death for many Americans. The right to live their lives in the open.
Gus van Sant has made a loving biopic for Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States. After a decade long attempt to be elected, Milk finally won the post of San Francisco Supervisor in 1977. In 1978, he was murdered in cold blood while at work by his colleague, Dan White.
This film is absolutely chock-full of outstanding performances by Sean Penn, perhaps one of America's most-talented, seasoned actors, and some very exciting newcomers. Penn never ceases to amaze me with courage in playing stretch-characters: a mentally-handicapped man in I Am Sam, a grief-crazed father in Mystic River, a crazy-dude in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. Mr. Penn has a reputation in his personal life as a hot-head and a bad boy, but I like to think his complex career choices as of late might be a form of therapy for working through some of his demons. His portrayal of Harvey Milk is warm, brave, and brimming with life.
You may remember uber-cutie Emile Hirsch from Into the Wild, but he's altogether unrecognizable in this film as a young man named Cleve Jones who joins Milk's campaign. Jones would go on to found the AIDS quilt and Hirsch does a fantastic job of communicating his boundless energy and mirth, although I couldn't help but think that Dov Charney must have based American Apparel's hoodies and big hipster glasses on the fashion stylings of Mr. Cleve Jones. And then there's Alison Pill, broadway superstar, as the lesbian campaign manager who has to prove her skills when she takes over midway through Harvey's run for supervisor. The part's too small to showcase Pill's talents, but her grief over Milk's death at the end of the film tugged at my heartstrings.
While James Franco does an admirable job of looking pissed off and tired as Milk's longtime boyfriend Scott Smith, his performance is rather forgettable, and his pretty face makes any sort of serious brooding a bit impossible. It's not his fault, but I'm not sure what he's doing in this film.
Milk is perhaps van Sant's most sentimental, most Hollywood-venture to date. The dialogue feels forced and there are moments of indulgence where I wished there had been restraint. But that said, Milk is still an important film. While in office, Harvey Milk campaigned in California for the demise of Proposition 6, or the Briggs Initiative, a law that would have banned gays and lesbians (and anyone who supported them) from teaching in public schools. Prop 6, thanks to the efforts of Harvey Milk and his team, was defeated on November 7, 1978. In the film, it is a moment of pure triumph. It reminded me of the mood on November 4, 2008.
November 4th was an incredible day in American history. I will never forget the endless celebration and relief upon learning that Barack Obama had been elected President. In that moment, so much felt possible, as if the pursuit of happiness and freedom had finally been realized since the past eight years of emotional and literal terrorism, hatred, and ignorance of the Bush administration. But I was deeply saddened, as were many of my Californian friends, to learn that Proposition 8 had passed, denying gay couples the right to marry and invalidating those marriages that had been legal in the state until then.
While I understand the argument that many gay couples make that marriage is a heterosexual institution that they don't necessarily want, I believe it should be an option. It should be an option for any longterm committed couple to make their partnership legal and known to the state, that their partnership should afford them the same rights that mine would if I chose to marry. And to say that they are married. That they are husband and husband, wife and wife. If straight couples have the right to be legally married in this country, every couple should have that right. It is a human, undeniable right.
In many ways we have come a long way from the time of Harvey Milk. But just as Harvey's victory of Prop 6 was blighted by his assassination, I can't help but feel as if they election of Obama was blighted by the victory of Prop 8. I can only hope that with the new year, come January 20th, America will have entered into a new period of diplomacy and the pursuit of civil rights for every single citizen: which means healthcare, employment, and yes, happiness. It's really the only way.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Recently, the dysfunctional family movie seems to be making a comeback: first there was The Squid and the Whale, and then Rachel Getting Married. And, of course, the holidays have never been safe, given that at Christmastime we're all jammed together in the same house, forced to visit relatives we may or may not care for . . . and, predictably, grudges and bad attitudes rear their ugly heads along to the tune of "Jingle Bells."
But Arnaud Desplechin's movie is anything but predictable. A family torn apart by death and dysfunction reunites during the holidays when its matriarch, played by the ever gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, announces she has bone cancer. (Seriously: did this woman sell her soul to the devil? I don't understand how beautiful she is). Her illness is linked to the same disease that killed her son, Joseph, when he was only six, an event that fractured this family forever.
While the film is too long by about twenty minutes (this seems to be symptomatic of this genre), it is successful in illuminating the thin thread that bonds one to our relations, and how, in times of struggle or grief, a retreat into isolation can sometimes backfire. Elizabeth, the eldest child of Junon (Deneuve) and her husband Abel (the joyful Jean-Paul Roussillon), pays off her brother's debts in exchange for his absence. She calmly asks her father and the court to accept the money on the condition that she never have to see her younger brother again. Her reasoning is both mysterious and perplexing, but Anne Consigny plays the part with such grace and depth of sorrow that one is almost afraid (like the rest of her family) to question her motivation.
So, at Christmas, it has been six years since Elizabeth has seen Henri, her brother. In a delightful display of debauchery and intense accusations, Matthieu Almaric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) once again steals the show in his self-destructive, ridiculous Henri. What follows is almost exotic in its European-ness: inside the house, avec les enfants, there is chain-smoking, fist-fights, sex, and a massive consumption of red-wine. While Americans may indulge in drinking and barbed language, the almost laid-back indulgence of this family seems to be old-hat. At one point, when Henri collapses after calling both his mother and sister "cunts," Junon simply replies, "Good, Henri was wearing me out, anyway," and cackles like a witch as he is carried up to bed.
The plot, waffles. There are occasional flourishes of unnecessary magic which feel out of place, albeit enjoyable. The power of this film is in the strength of the development and complexity of literally every single one of these characters. And there are several. While their independent stories sometime detract from the main point of the film (Junon's illness, reconciliation), each is entirely believable and fascinating in itself. For instance, Sylvie's story (Ivan, the youngest son's wife) may be the most tragic. Superbly acted by Catherine Deneuve's real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, one can't resent the slight rerouting of the plot.
In many ways, this narrative-snafus reflects the beauty of the family unit. Each part is intimidating and intense in its isolation, its individual experience, and sadly, oftentimes these cracks cannot be mended. But it is that sentimental sense of the holidays, and of events we cannot control, that force us to come together, even in resentment, where the slight touch of a hand, or the memory of a first-dance, can bring us all to appreciate the whole: whether it is ideal, or not.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Last night was the feather in my weekend's cap, largely due to The National Theater's production of Virginia Woolf's The Waves now showing at the Duke Theater on 42nd street.
Ben Brantley has given it a fantastic review over at the NYT, if you're interested in what a real critic has to say.
While Virginia Woolf is, undoubtedly, my favorite writer (both of fiction and nonfiction), her work is notably difficult to stage. Most adaptations consist of a talented English actress simply reading from the text, as if it were a monologue. Kate Williams, the director here, has blown that tradition out of the water.
I was skeptical about the idea of live video imaging to go along with her prose. However, as the play went on, what the actors (who function also as video and sound technicians on the stage) were capable of creating put to rest any doubts I had as to whether this sort of “media adaptation” would work for Woolf’s prose. Her language, illuminated by the silky English accents of these players, literally came to life on the stage. If you’ve read Woolf, you know about her concept of “moments of being”—small, seemingly simple events or sensations that, in a moment, are capable of revealing something important to us about our lives. The video helped to bring these moments to the forefront, by zooming in on the actor’s face, or hands—these detailed emotions, usually unreadable from several rows back, were projected at the intensity of film. Not to be outdone by cinema, however, the actions and activities of the actors still on the stage made it more than a simple exercise in filmmaking. All sounds were reinforced by separate players, using props (styrofoam plates, brushes, the pouring of water, the crunching of leaves underfoot) as if these minute sensory signals had been illuminated, magnified—as they often are when one thinks back on a moment so chillingly beautiful that it sticks in one’s mind forever.
The production is an absolute joy, both to the Woolf reader, and to those yet unfamiliar with her work. I’m excited and hopeful that Kate Williams’ future National Theater productions will make their way across the pond.
If you live in
If you don't live in
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Life's too short. How can I learn to appreciate the good stuff?
Jen says this so much better over on her blog.
Monday, November 10, 2008
On Mondays I generally feel like I've been hit by a mack truck and lack sufficient brain power to write a coherent post. That said, it makes me sad to see the blog go un-updated, so I've decided to introduce a set of links into the fold every Monday, under the heading: Monday Kneecapp'd Recap. I hope you all enjoy, and as always: thanks for reading!
- As Barack and Michelle Obama were welcomed at The White House, I was falling down the stairs at the Flatiron building after I had slipped on water from the plastic bottle which had just plummeted from my hands. Let me just say, you can't buy grace like the Obamas'.
- FSG celebrated the publication of Robert Bolaño's massive posthumous novel, 2666, at Plan B in Alphabet City. Read Jonathan Lethem's insane review. As I was leaving the party due to suffocation, a girl stopped me on the street and said "Do you know what band is playing here?"
- My favorite guy and I went to see the Elizabeth Peyton exhibit at the New Museum. I've been a fan of hers since the teenaged years. I'm obsessed with celebrity: Peyton paints her friends, but also celebs and historical figures, working off of famous photographs. An interesting take on portraiture.
- We published the collected letters of Ted Hughes. You know how I feel about the guy, but even I have to admit this letter from Ted to Sylvia Plath after their first hook-up is pretty hot: "Sylvia, That night was nothing but getting to know how smooth your body is. The memory of it goes through me like brandy." 3/1956.
- Daniel Craig is by far the beefiest Bond. Looking forward to checking out his Quantum of Solace this coming weekend. Oh. Oh, oh.
- I just bought tickets to this production of The Waves, adapted from Virginia Woolf's novel, direct from the National Theater in London.
- Obama's victory papers sold the hell out all over the country. And people were still queuing at The New York Times on Friday!
- There' a new oral biography of George Plimpton, one of the coolest motherfuckers to ever grace this earth, and the founder of The Paris Review, from Random House.
- And finally, this behind the scenes flickr set as Obama and his family learned he was to be the 44th President of the United States, inspires me to practice serenity and stoicism.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
"This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:
Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America."
Monday, November 03, 2008
I immediately sent out a cover letter and was surprised when I received a response about a week later from Anna Holmes, the managing editor, telling me she was interested in my ideas and wanted to hear more.
So again, I responded, this time with a longer e-mail, complete with bulleted points about how I would expand Jezebel's fashion coverage and how my ideas would gel with the intent of the site.
Then Anna asked me to come and interview for the job.
At this point, about a month had lapsed since I had sent in my cover letter.
So interview I did, and I thought it went pretty well. Anna even asked me to test-blog, which I did, in a seven hour marathon of blogging, and promptly sent her the link.
I didn't hear from her for another three weeks.
Finally, after a few back and forth e-mails, an intern at Gawker e-mailed me asking if I would be available to come in and meet with Noah Robischon and Anna to discuss the job. Elated, I agreed. I met with Noah and Anna about a week later. Anna sat across the table from me, looking pretty worried. Noah asked me questions about how I could make fashion coverage interesting to Jezebel readers, and followed up with other questions that basically revealed he hadn't really spent much time reading my test blog. I left fairly confused but still feeling confident that I could do the job.
Two weeks passed.
Three weeks passed.
I heard nothing. I sent Anna an e-mail, asking what was up. No response.
Then Jezebel posted this, which appeared to indicate that Anna and, most likely, her superiors had chosen to simply promote three contributors to full time staffers rather than hire anyone new. Essentially, that post was how I found out I didn't get the job.
Since then, I have not received an explanation as to what happened, or even an e-mail simply telling me that I didn't get the job. I've had no word whatsoever, and my e-mails have gone unanswered.
Doubtless their decision had to do with the fact that due to the economic recession Gawker had fired about twenty people and wasn't looking to take anyone else on . . . and in the next weeks, Radar would fold, and large numbers of Condé Nast employees would also be let go.
I'm a smart girl and I can take a hint.
That said, it still would have been nice, or rather, maybe the word I'm thinking here is "professional" to have had a response from Jezebel, given that I spent close to three months waiting for them to make a decision.
It's disappointing, because I love Jezebel and I think they're a great blog. I had always considered myself to be one of their biggest fans. But thinking about this entire process which ultimately resulted in absolutely nothing puts a bad taste in my mouth. For a website that promotes women and supposedly encourages women to pursue whatever floats their boat, they surely made me feel like shit under their feet. I suppose I wouldn't want to work for a company that has such disregard for their potential employees, and I can't imagine how their actual staffers are treated.
I had always been a fervent defender of Gawker media. Now I keep my mouth closed when people put the company down and mark off the days to its inevitable extinction.
As for me, I still have a job in book publishing. We're not doing so well, either. People don't exactly have $30 to spend on a hardcover book when they can't pay their rent and the electricity's been turned off. I know, because I've been there. (In fact, I'm still there!) But at least I'm employed, and well on my way to understanding what it means to work for publisher that still has some semblance of respect for its writers and readers, even if that means we don't usually make the big bucks. Let's put it this way. Things can either get better, or they can get worse.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of this bullshit, and I'm ready for a change.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
In spite of her notorious reputation, Janet Malcolm is a fantastic critic and journalist . While I was interning at The Paris Review, I had the pleasure of transcribing an interview between her and Craig Seligman, which whet my appetite for her work. The managing editor turned me onto her collected essays, called The Purloined Clinic, and when I found out she had written a book about Sylvia Plath (The Silent Woman), I was hooked.
Malcolm's infamous rep comes from her demonstrated ability to get people to say things they normally wouldn't tell a journalist. (See: Masson Case). Unsurprisingly, Malcolm puts said quotations to good use in her books on controversial topics such as the criminal justice system and psychoanalysis. She is unsparing in her biases. In the introduction to The Silent Woman, she unabashedly states her hatred for Plath's poetry. In many ways, to many people, this violates her integrity as a journalist.
But it is Malcolm's razor sharp prose and her analytical style which makes all of her essays and books intensely readable and thought-provoking. Even if you don't agree with Malcolm, her questions concerning truth and narrative are some of the most interesting and most important questions raised regarding the future of journalism and biography.
No doubt Gertrude and Alice began in the same vein as Malcolm's other endeavors. But for some reason, it goes awry in this book. First of all, there is little to no biographical information on Alice B. Toklas. Perhaps this is simply because very little is known about her. Obviously Stein is the major player in this book, and in the annals of history, but to entitle your book Gertrude and Alice one would hope both parties would be discussed. This slight is not only frustrating to Toklas' legacy, but also to the nature of Stein and Toklas' relationship.
Malcolm takes another path, asking the question "How is it possible that two Jewish lesbians were able to survive the Nazis?" During WWII, Stein and Tolkas lived in German occupied-France. Malcolm goes on to cite several reasons for their survival, mainly their friendliness with notorious Nazi sympathizers who happened to find Stein (albeit a Jew) very charming, and shielded her and Alice from any aggressors.
Of course this is a valid and frustrating suggestion, that Stein and Toklas could have been thriving while thousands upon thousands of Jews were murdered merely miles from their home in Bilignin. And while Malcolm makes a few attempts at deciphering Stein's indecipherable body of work, they are superficial attempts. After reading this little book, I was no more knowledgeable about Stein's writing or her relationship with Alice B. Toklas, but I was certain that Stein may have been a fascist and Toklas ended her life as a bankrupt, crazy old convert to Catholicism.
Of course discussing solely the positives of someone's life work or biography would be a crime. But to simply label Stein as a potential criminal (by association and denial), tossing off her contributions to modernism and not to mention to the careers of major artists such as Picasso and Hemingway, feels unfair, and dishonest . . . especially for those who may be approaching these women for the first time.
On her death bed, Stein asked Toklas, "What is the answer?" When Toklas did not respond, Stein then went on, "In that case, what is the question?" Stein may not know, but unfortunately, in this book, neither does Malcolm.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Rachel Getting Married has the potential to be a terrible movie. There's the whole hand-held camera thing. Then there's the "dead-kid" subplot. And to top it all off, there's Anne Hathaway of The Princess Diaries fame in the lead role. But when I read the reviews, which were, for the most part, great, I was intrigued.
Jonathan Demme, the director, is most famous for 1991's The Silence of the Lambs. He's also the man who brought us the stupid and unnecessary remake of The Manchurian Candidate. But then there's Philadelphia, so all is forgiven. In other words, Demme is a good director. This new film is an attempt at some sort of indie hit . . . but what Demme ends up with is a pretty good mainstream movie that touches on some hardcore angst.
Kym (Hathaway)'s first day back from rehab just happens to be the weekend of her sister (Rosemary DeWitt)'s wedding to a man she's never met. Chain-smoking through the house, Kym tries her darndest to avoid her sweet but overbearing father, her loveable and successful (she's getting her Ph.D.!) sister, and the sinking feeling that she's raining on everyone's parade.
At first, Kym comes off as a spoiled, awkward brat, whose addiction is probably based in some overall Salingeresque malaise. You know, some pretentious fucking white-ass emotional drama that really if she took a step back and looked around she could probably get over. Think Noah Baumbach, think New York intellectuals, think total and utter bullshit.
However, Demme takes a sharp turn away from Baumbach and towards Ang Lee's The Ice Storm in the revelation that Kym's addiction has caused the family more pain than one can possibly imagine. In one incredible scene, Hathaway really proves she's got more acting chops than we all thought when she describes how she cannot be forgiven for what she's done . . . and that she's not sure she wants to believe in a God who could forgive her. The emotional punishment and guilt seething through these characters is palpable.
Debra Winger returns to acting for the first time in nearly ten years in her performance as Rachel and Kym's estranged mother, and she does an fantastic job of unleashing all the subconscious, strained energy between the two realities: this family's life before Kym's accident and their life after the accident. And Bill Irwin's subtle and nuanced performance as Kym's father is absolutely heartbreaking, right down to the details. When he receives some unexpected good news from Rachel, his hands shake as he loads the dishwasher.
All said, the movie goes on far too long (there are several scenes of wedding-related activities that could be cut down by about thirty minutes in total); the ethic wedding explosion is a little over the top and frankly, boring. But the performances in this film are well-worth watching. The frantic bouncing of the camera juxtaposed with the quiet, rare familial gestures in this film are painful to watch. This is not a feel-good movie. But it is a lesson in forgiveness, which is perhaps one we could all stand to learn.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
In 1974, crazy Frenchman Phillippe Petit walked a high wire strung between WTC 1 and WTC 2. He didn't just walk it. He went back and forth eight times, laid down on the wire, knelt, and spent a total of forty-five minutes in the clouds.
I must live under a rock, because before Man on Wire was released, I had never heard of this stunt. This seems impossible, but true. The New Yorker did an incredible job with their hommage to Petit on the issue the week of 9/11.
Petit didn't just walk between the Two Towers, either. Prior to that impossible feat he also walked the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the two turrets of Notre Dame. (Later conquests include the Eiffel Tower and the Louisiana Superdome). And, of course, he didn't do these things alone. He had a colorful crew of losers and friends to literally help him string the wires. The documentary is heist-tale of sorts: the crew had to find a way to get to the top of the World Trade Center without being arrested, manage to string the wire and get Petit across it all before being apprehended by the police. After several hilarious and nerve-wracking gyrations, they succeed.
The footage of Petit practicing his highwire and the photographs of him exercising his passion are perhaps the most impressive, breathtaking aspect of this documentary. But it is the focus on the relationships of these people, and how this singular event changed their lives forever that becomes the most heartbreaking, most meaningful reason to see this film. All involved parties are interviewed and their piecemeal accounts combine to form the narrative of the events leading up to the highwire walk on August 7th, 1974. But interspersed there is video footage from the seventies, mostly in Petit's backyard in France, where he practiced his walk. The same people telling us this incredible story are immediately transformed into their younger selves in what feels completely seamless: as if the moment of Petit's ascension aged them by thirty years.
In what seems to be a very French philosophy, Man on Wire seems to tell us to live our lives to the fullest, pursuing our passions and unabashedly worshiping our obsessions until they become a reality. But in what I believe to be perhaps the most poignant message of the film is the solitude and the resounding silence that occurs after said mission is won. Petit achieved an incredible and impossible personal goal that day. When one is confronted with the success of a lifelong dream, that changes everything, well, what then?
I find the parallels between Man on Wire and the demise of the Trade Towers eerily profound. (And yet 9/11, for understandable reasons, is never discussed). The Two Towers, for so many New Yorkers, and Americans represent those unattainable goals, those impossible passions and obsessions. And even if they are built, they can crumble around us. But, for those brief moments they survive, the journey is worth it. And then we must confront the ghostly reminder of our past, and its formidable mist that gathers at our feet.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Oh my goodness.
Olivia Judson, in this piece on the NYTimes' "The Wild Side" blog, discusses the discovery of the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a gene, which has recently been found to support and encourage the maintenance of committed relationships in humans and other mammals. While the gene is present in both sexes, it's more important to males, as it corresponds to other behaviors such as "aggressive posturing, scent marking of territories, courtship and sex."
Too much of the gene, however, can be a bad thing. In a recent Swedish study, men who had two copies of the gene, a variant known as RS3 334 "were less likely to be married, and more likely to report difficulties in their relationships, than other men. Their partners were also more likely to report relationship difficulties."
When introduced into lab rats (a species that Judson notes is NOT, by any means, a monogamous species), the male rat became interested in cuddling with a partner, and when a new female was introduced into his environment, he "prefer[ed] to consort with the old partner." The question here is: if we were to insert this gene into human males who have a proven aversion to commitment, would we achieve the same result?
Of course, as Judson mentions, this isn't exactly an ethical move. And I, for one, am not a huge fan of altering human behavior through gene therapy.
So, ladies: seeing a guy that won't commit? Time to throw in the towel.
Shit is biological.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I have never read Infinite Jest, but the novel means a lot to a dear friend of mine, so I've been meaning to read it for some time. I'm sure many others will be motivated to do the same now that the man behind it is dead . . . for understandable reasons suicide creates a shroud of mystery around the artist's work which gives it another level of permanence.
I have, however, read several of David Foster Wallace's essays, and found them quite intelligent and entertaining. There's also a sense of pain and raw emotion present in his writing that my favorite book reviewer, Sam Anderson, pegged as almost a feeling of "self-help" in his memorial on New York Magazine. In it, he mentions Wallace's commencement address to the 2005 Kenyon graduates. Here are a few lines that really spoke to me:
"If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-type hell situation not only as meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the starts: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that the mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it."
Things can be bad. I, for one, know that I make them worse when I let my anxieties and insecurities get the best of me. I know what's quoted above seems flouncy and Buddhist, and perhaps it is, but I can't hear advice like this often enough. So much of my reality is often colored by my negative perception. If I could learn, as DFW suggests, to seek the positive, even in times of stress, I think the world would seem less fruitless and that people would seem more kind.
I only wish his own advice had been able to sway him from giving up. My thoughts are with his family and friends. His words survive.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Every anniversary I read Susan Sontag's brave piece from The New Yorker, which was published on September 24th, 2001. You can read other writers' and thinkers' reactions from that day here. Sontag received (of course) a great deal of criticism for her agressive stance, but I find her points to still ring true after SEVEN years . . . which unfortunately says more about the ignorant, impotent administration than the American people (I hope). So, once again, Susan.
"The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.
Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.
Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be."
* * *
God knows how many people never came home on September 11th, 2001.
Dr. Sneha Anne Philip's case has been perhaps the most publicized and the most mysterious. But I can't help but think what else is missing from this country: an awareness that the right-wing, isolationist stance that George W. Bush and his ilk take is flat out wrong, racist, ignorant, and the only thing it does is gets us (not to mention other people) killed. I still can't fathom how we were struck dumb enough to elect this man for a second time. Anger, Revenge and Blood-lust are inevitably part of being human. But I believe that our leaders should, with the help of a well-informed administration, be able to rise above our initial impulse to seek and destroy.
And while many Americans feel down-trodden, disgusted, and helpless when it comes to our election process, I must urge everyone to vote for the missing. For those people who never came home on 9/11, and for the compassion, intellect, and capable leadership that has been missing from this country for nearly eight years.
* * *
To my friends and family, I love you. Take care of yourselves and others.
And to New York, no matter how much you test me, you are still the most vibrant, resilient city: let's hope the rest of the country catches on.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Vanity Fair has acquired incredible access to the letters, mementos, clothes and various other personal items of Marilyn Monroe's that were recently discovered in two filing cabinets originally sold at auction.
After clicking through most of the scans, I think the most touching are her letters to her step-children and father-in-law, with whom she kept in close contact with even after her divorce from Arthur Miller. Her letters to Miller's father are all addressed, "Dear Dad."
This one is written to her step-son, Bobby, in the voice of Hugo, his basset hound. [click photo for larger view]
Or this cheeky little note regarding some off-color remarks Tony Curtis had made:
You can browse through the entire archive here.
I've always been a huge Marilyn Monroe fan, my reasons ranging from the conspiracy theories that surround her death to her astounding beauty. I do think had she survived she would have gone on to be respected as a serious actress. And her life-long dream of becoming a mother, never-realized, is absolutely heart-breaking. But, obviously, more than anything she's a reflection of the decade that defined her success and made her an icon.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Dear John McCain,
I noticed that you've picked Sarah Palin as your running mate for the 2008 election. Well, that's awfully nice of you.
But, honestly: do you think you can win women over simply by choosing a person who happens to have been born with a double X-chromosome? I'm confused as to whose votes you're gunning for. Are you trying to be more "diverse"? Let me give you a tip here: you cannot compete with Obama's diversity. So don't try. And choosing a woman because she's a woman, not because she's a competent running-mate, well, it worries me about your ability to lead the country.
I'm sure Sarah Palin is very nice lady, aside from the fact that she is a pro-lifer, a christian conservative, a gun-fiend, and by all accounts, mostly likely a total and complete hater. (Hater, def: A bigoted asshole).
But then again, I guess you'd have to be pro-life to run with someone who supports an all out BAN on abortion in EVERY STATE. Oh, but he does allow for abortion in cases of rape and incest. GEE, THANKS! Aside from her politics, which of course, I disagree with, she's inexperienced, McCain! Less than two years as a Governor and a controversial one at that! You know what this looks like. It looks like you grabbed the nearest female and slapped the VP hat on her. Oh wait. It looks that way because that's exactly what you've done.
Look, I know you aren't as stupid as some conservatives I know.
But why alienate your base?
I mean, for chrissake, women can't clean house AND be Vice-President! Who will make sure the kids don't go gay?
Clearly, McCain, you are not playing for keeps. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have come to stand for two groups of oppressed Americans, and they fought damn hard and well to get where they are today. When Hillary Clinton decided to run for President, she was fulfilling a life-long dream of hers, because she believed she could actually do something to make this country a better place.
And yeah, women's rights DO completely stem on our reproductive rights. If a woman has no choice in carrying a fetus for nine months, much less taking care of it for her entire life, she's not a woman. She's not even a person. Without that choice, we have nothing. So be honest. You couldn't give a rat's-ass about women's rights. I find this to be a purely political move, and yes, I find it insulting to all the women who have busted their ass to protect women's rights.
In the future, stick to your fucking guns.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Yeah, yeah. I'm one of those "I don't understand the point of all this fuss" people when it comes to the Olympics. First of all, I'm not an athlete and I pretty much hate exercise. If I were a naturally thin rake I'd probably never go to the gym and I'd eat whatever I want. Of course I have more energy when I do go to the gym, but while I'm on that treadmill all I can think about is how great it's going to be when I step off it, so I can go home and eat a taco.
The bubbling nationalism and fascism of pitting athletes against each other based on their country sort of terrifies me. Yes, does raise a patriotic crocodile tear to my eye when America's national anthem is played if one of "ours" wins the Gold, but at the same time I wonder: did they really win that medal for the U.S.A.? I can't help but see athleticism as perhaps the most individualistic, selfish endeavor: and to make it your whole life, your absolute being and reason for breathing strikes me as the pinnacle of narcissism.
Yes, I understand that it's about pushing limits and it's also about entertainment. And I do find some sports entertaining: namely basketball, tennis, and gymnastics. Swimming has suddenly become something to watch because of Michael Phelps, but other than that, I could really care less.
That is, until NBC revealed the incredible feature that is THE MOM CAM.
Some genius finally picked up on the fact that watching someone win is a lot more entertaining if one can see his or her Mom's reaction. So when Michael Phelps broke like, ten million world records and won his eighth gold medal on Saturday night, not only did we get to see his body rippling in some sort of hyper-adrenaline craze, we also got to see his mother collapse out of pride and shock at her son's acheivement.
Jezebel's got this covered to the max. Check out their video of Phelps and his mama here. Really, check it out. It makes me cry. ME, the ultimate skeptic.
The one that really got me, though, was Shalane Flanagan's win for the silver medal in women's 10,000 meter race, making her the second American woman to medal in that event. Her mom, Cheryl, is a women's marathon record holder, and her reaction to her daughter's win just brings tears to my eyes. I really feel as though this one video makes the entire Olympic games worth it. So watch it. NOW.
My Mom has always supported me in everything I was ever interested in, from guitar lessons to acting to singing to writing to moving to New York, and just generally fostering who I am and encouraging me to "go for the gold." She told me a story once about my performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" at the age of (what was it Mom?) six? at my elementary school's talent show, and how she was so nervous for me that her hands as she held the video camera shook so much that the picture is all wobbly and jumpy. Now, that is love.
I think I didn't quite understand the drive and the amount of work it takes to become an Olympic athlete until I saw these Moms practically pass out from joy when their kids pass the finish line. Presumably, this moment is something they have been working and waiting for for quite some time, i.e. pretty much since their children were born and able to swim / run / jump / catapult / etc.
So thanks, Mom. I may not be able to swim like my hands are made of dolphins, but you've always been there cheering me on in the stands, no matter what. And that is hell of a lot more important than some stupid gold medal.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I must first apologize for the long-ass delay in posting. Believe it or not, I've been doing more blogging than ever the past two weeks, just not on this site! (Yes, vague statement. Hopefully I will be able to clear it up for you, dear readers, very soon).
A few months ago, I watched Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's offensively endearing movie about pregnancy. Heard of it? My boyfriend and his roommate were big fans, along with just about every other guy I've ever met, so I figured since I had labeled myself as a "cultural critic," I had better engage with this thing. Prior to my viewing I had heard Knocked Up described as everything from "offensive" to "sweet." And granted, yes, I had read some of the reviews, which were fairly bipolar However, I will say that my beloved Jezebelles really loved the movie, especially Moe.
My own bias prevents me from seeing Katherine Heigel's character as a real person since she never fully weighs the pros and cons of keeping her baby. (So Moe, I disagree). I understand that as a plot device, maybe Apatow doesn't have the writing chops or the time to give Alison the "holy shit what the fuck do I do now I don't even know this guy" panic sequence. Instead, she takes a pregnancy test, tells her sister and mom about being with child, and when her mother asks if she's thought about aborting it, simply replies, "No." Juno, which I haven't seen, is probably even worse about this sort of thing: a woman resigning herself to the swell predicament she's found herself in.
I have an issue with films that treat pregnancy as just the "TERMS" (forgive the puns) of women's lives. Sure, women get pregnant. Shit happens. They also have abortions. Not all of them do. And I'm all for women who decide to keep their babies. Hell, I promote the survival of the human-race, and you know what? I love babies. I love looking at them, I love holding them, I love making faces at them, and I kind of want to have a lot of them eventually. That said it's hard for me to believe that there are women (aside from very religious ones) who DON'T EVEN CONSIDER the possibility of abortion, especially if they are independent, and want a career.
And aside from those issues, there are a whole lot of vagina jokes in Knocked Up that I just find a) stupid, and b) stupid, oh and c) not funny. But then again, I'm the girl who hates dead baby jokes and period jokes. Dear God, if you are reading this right now, please strike down any male who makes a period joke with ULTIMATE MENSTRUATION for the rest of his life. Then we'll see who's laughing.
When I told my boyfriend I "hated" Knocked Up he was surprised. "But you were laughing!" he said. "I saw you!" his roommate said. Yeah, guys. I was laughing. Then I went home and I thought about what the hell I would do if I found myself in the same situation, and generally about the way men and women function and what they want out of life and things suddenly became very serious.
The women in Knocked Up struck me as shrill shrews. Especially Debbie, who is constantly complaining that her near-perfect husband Pete (played by the delicious Paul Rudd) isn't giving her what she needs. Pete is a great Dad. He might not be a great husband, but he's also a DUDE. Since when are dudes great husbands? In fact, since when do men make "good" husbands? Do we know any? If so I'd really like to hear about them.
Cause here's the thing I've realized: Men don't make good partners according to women. And that's because women and men are so crazy different that there's no way in hell a guy would ever do exactly what you want him to do 100% of the time unless he was telepathic and he loved you enough to go out of his way to make you happy. Some guys are capable of the second option, but clearly not all the time. Which makes women upset. In turn, we become SHRILL. Maybe not all women are like this. Let me hear from you if you aren't so I can bottle your DNA and study your brain to figure out how to be more like you.
So, yeah. The women in Knocked Up are emotional and they are shrill. Because women are that way. And it isn't as if the men come off any better. They're fat, lazy, stupid, and almost completely non-functional across the board. I think guys like this movie maybe because it makes them feel a little better about themselves: especially if they weren't the most popular jock at the sock hop.
But there are some brilliant fucking moments in this movie. When Debbie discovers that Pete, her husband, isn't actually cheating on her but instead is running off to play fantasy baseball with his friends, she's still upset. You know why? Because she just wants to be included in his decisions, in his life. He says he went to see a movie without her because he didn't think she would like his choice of film. She responds by saying she just wants to be asked even if she ends up not going. I can't think of anything more beautiful than this exchange: it communicates the fundamental difference between men and women. Men need to do their own thing and feel like they have no obligations (even if its achingly apparent that they do), and women need to feel like men care about them and consider their feelings (even if they don't).
Later, when the guys are in Vegas together, acting like assholes, they realize (with the help of shrooms) that they really don't deserve the love of these awesome women who for some crazy reason want to be with them despite their insane loser-dom. Even if Debbie and Alison are still, emotional, and pregnant (in Alison's case), their dudes somehow find a way to suck-it up and stay the course. And that's pretty cool. Because if you really love someone, you deal with the fact that they might get pissed if you forget to call and check-in.
So, Knocked Up isn't perfect. But neither are we.
Friday, July 18, 2008
It is difficult for me to write an unbiased, honest review of Chris Nolan’s newest installment in the Batman series. Why so difficult? I have loved Batman for as long as I can remember, or least since the first time I saw Batman Returns, which remains, to this day, my favorite of the enterprise. I suppose I love Batman for many of the same reasons other people do—he is, by definition, not a superhero, but rather a man with deep emotional wounds that drive him to seek revenge. However, what elevates Batman to the level of hero (or anti-hero, depending on how you look at it), is that he finds his taste for revenge to be insatiable.
So, I won't write a review. Instead, I will write an ode.
Batman Begins was an admirable first foray into the world of Gotham. I personally found it clunky and boring, mainly because of all the high-tech bullshit and unnecessary back-story. Also, Katie Holmes’ face makes my skin crawl and her total and complete worthlessness as an actor doesn’t exactly excite me, either. But when I heard, over a year ago, that Nolan would take on Batman again and that Heath Ledger would step into the role of the Joker, I was intrigued. Heath Ledger?
At that point, Heath had yet to knock our socks off with his performance in Brokeback Mountain. To me, he was a marginally-talented, gorgeous Australian with excellent taste in women. But Brokeback Mountain changed all that—his heart-wrenching portrait of Ennis Del Mar confirmed that Heath was playing for the big leagues. But Heath’s personal life seemed to suffer when his professional one flourished: his fairytale romance with Michelle Williams ended—(he once said in an interview on the conception of his daughter, Matilda Rose, “Michelle and I were so in love . . . we just did what our bodies told us to do"), Batman wrapped, and Heath was seen skulking about New York City, canoodling with models, and generally looking like hell.
And then, we all know what happened next.
Heath Ledger's performance in this film surpasses all the hype and praise it has earned thusfar in the press. It has been years since I've seen any actor commit to a role so purely and with such energy that it takes the breath away from the audience, whose reaction is littered with bouts of nervous laughter. Ledger's Joker is absolutely terrifying, a complete and natural maniac. He is not the product of a chemical bath, a fire, or a maiming. He is, in a way, the shadow against all of Gotham, the invisible man: the criminally insane. Those who cease to exist in this society because they do not fit into our parameters of black and white. As Manola Dargis so aptly put it in her review, "He isn’t fighting for anything or anyone. He isn’t a terrorist, just terrifying."
See this film for Ledger's performance, if for no other reason. It is fascinating in its cruelty and its romance, perhaps the best combination we can ask for in the ultimate villain. When the Joker escapes his holding cell (in an oh so creative way) and drives away into Gotham's night, head out the window, all smiles, hair blowing in the breeze, there is something so visually stunning about Ledger and Nolan's camerawork here that I felt as though I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
I apologize if you've read this post in order to get a sense of the entire film. I realize that I have failed in that capacity. Of course you should see it, of course it's exciting, of course: it's Batman. It's *the* action film of the summer. You don't want to miss out on that. Yes, there's poor dialogue, completely unrealistic scenes, and bad acting.
Critics and fans alike have claimed that making this movie killed Heath Ledger. I disagree. His performance is an example of the ultimate creation, the true definition of acting, and I can't think of a better tribute or legacy to leave than an actor at his best, doing what he loves, and doing it brilliantly.
Retraction, 8/7/08: The only other performance that equals Ledger's this year is of course Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Please see my review for more details.
Also: I highly recommend seeing The Dark Knight via IMAX.
Monday, July 14, 2008
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Owning an apartment in Brooklyn, a successful career as a writer and a critic, and a loving family.
What is your greatest fear?
To be alone, and terminally ill.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
Abraham Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth I.
Which living person do you most admire?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most despise in others?
What is your greatest extravagance?
On what occasion do you lie?
Only to protect others.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
The fact that I am not leaner.
Which living person do you most despise?
George Bush, and anyone who resents difference.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Awesome,” “As per usual,” and “Just throwin’ that out there,” “OMG”
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be less of a worry-wort.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
That they would heal faster.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Never compromising my beliefs because of my ambition.
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
Someone with a little more money.
Who are your favorite writers?
Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Bernhard, and Roberto Bolano.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Zooey (Franny and Zooey), Gudrun (Women in Love), and Fanny (Mansfield Park)
What is your most treasured possession?
My teddy bear, and my first editions of Virginia Woolf.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The inability to recognize beauty in the details.
Where would you like to live?
Near the water, in Marble Head, Massachusetts, with an apartment in New York.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My height, I think, or my bleach blonde hair, as of late.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Emotional awareness and kindness.
What is your greatest regret?
That I didn’t pursue an acting career with more aplomb.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
If there is a Heaven what would you like to hear God say when you arrive?
We should do lunch!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I have, thanks to my friend C., recently rediscovered the joy that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer thanks to TV on DVD, and come to the conclusion that Buffy may be one of the most successful examples of third-wave feminism.
There's plenty of "Buffy as Feminist Icon" scholarship out there. Check this out, or this. Of course, there are those who disagree.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to what Buffy means to you . . . or more specifically, in this post, to me. The wit and genius of the writing on this show cannot and has not been ignored by critics and fans alike who hailed it as one of the most successful television series of all time during its seven season run from 1997 to 2003. Buffy takes a universal experience (high school) and blows it up dramatically to really nail down those typical teenage years. For Buffy, high school literally is hell. Sunnydale High sits right on top of the Hellmouth, the opening to hell, and therefore her town is filled with vampires, demons, and other sundry ghouls.
Buffy is a warrior, make no bones about it, but she is also a girl who cares about her clothes, her friends and family, and her boyfriend. In no way does Buffy compromise (what she considers) the essential traits of her femininity (i.e. her high heels, her emotions) to slay vampires. Instead, the incorporation of these elements are exactly what make her the ultimate fighter. As she says to Kendra, another slayer, the emotions are what give her the fire and strength to kill.
What I find most incredible about Buffy is Angel's side-story, and especially the curse which results in his demise. Angel is a notorious vampire, who, because of the intensity of his killing-sprees, is cursed by one of his victim's families to regain his soul and live forever with the knowledge of all the lives he has destroyed. In the early 90s, Angel learns that Buffy is the slayer and decides that he will aid her in ridding the world of all evil. In the process, of course, they fall in love. But here's the catch (and here be spoilers): If Angel, for one moment, experiences pure happiness, he will return to his demon form, utterly evil.
Let's just say when Angel and Buffy end up seeking shelter at Angel's place after barely escaping from a demon called The Judge (and a very convenient rainstorm), they finally have sex. Yeah, that thing about pure happiness? Oops. So just like many a gal's experience, when they finally sleep with their beau, they wake up to find that maybe he's not exactly the guy they thought he was . . . in fact, he's kind of a jerk. In Buffy's case, Angel is a homicidal maniac who quickly focuses his bloodlust on her and her friends.
Writer and creator Joss Whedon's genius here makes me just about speechless. How many of us crushed on someone all throughout high school, only to have them change overnight into some stranger, who slighted us, or insulted us, or, in perhaps the worst case possible, broke our hearts and left us for dead? We've all been there. (I have, once on the street in Bloomington, Indiana, and again on the street in Park Slope, Brooklyn). Buffy's struggle to destroy Angel is almost purely analogous to the intense inner struggle to "get over" a bad relationship and move on. Buffy must force all the happy memories of what she and Angel had together to the back of her mind, and recognize him now as a demon she can no longer trust. Sound familiar?
No matter what, Buffy is always a working girl. Her destiny as the slayer keeps her emotions in check. And while she waffles occasionally, complaining to Giles about wanting to have a normal life, or hesitating in particularly gruesome slayer tasks, in the end, she enjoys what she does, punning and sarcastically quipping the whole way home. Buffy seems to be an argument for living a purposeful life, outside oneself: i.e. having a CAREER. For this, Joss Whedon, I raise my glass to you.
Of course, battling evil and being sixteen is dangerous, both to one's health and sense of self, and Buffy doesn't always escape unscathed. Her unnatural attachment to Spike (another vampire) and rather violent sex (later in the series, with Spike) seems to be a way she can work through some of her frustration and feeling of isolation. In other words, Buffy isn't perfect. She's still human.
But those vamps have another thing coming when they go after the pretty blond girl walking home from school. They have a slayer on their hands. And while Buffy is a superhero (and therefore has superhuman strength, so she really is stronger than the boys), the fantasy-fulfillment for the ladies watching at home is a positive thing, I think, whether it's completely plausible or not. What I mean here is that Buffy attempts to have it all: friends, a demanding job, a relationship, and most importantly, she's a girl who knows how to take care of herself.
And that's a really wonderful thing. No exceptions.