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Entries in twilight (4)


In Which Harry Potter Answers An Unwelcome Call of Nature

The Boy Who Needed Two Parts


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
dir. David Yates
146 minutes

Watching the first part of the last installment of J.K. Rowling’s celebrated series and sitting through a very long plane ride are uncannily similar. In both cases the tickets cost too much and the food is bad and overpackaged. An unwelcome call of nature inevitably leads to embarrassing encounters with your neighbors’ knees. Your worst enemies are screaming children and giants. The only reason you put yourself through all of this is because it is taking you somewhere you want to be: namely, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which brings me to the issue at hand.

Why is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in two parts? I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the franchise's way of rudely gesturing at its current archrival, Twilight, the fourth installment of which — you guessed it! — is in two parts and also comes out next year. Still, a contest between which love triangle or battle for the universe will win more millions seems a tad immature, although appropriately so. Few books, and even fewer films, are made for something as outdated as cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.

Drawing attention to the resemblances between Twilight and this most recent installment of Harry Potter could scarcely benefit anyone. It is obvious that they resemble each other. If you don't believe me, just think about how from now on, anything including a love triangle and shirtless magical beings will allude to them both. I would much rather ponder about what it is, exactly, that makes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (now I know why most people just say HP7) a bore.

It started out so well! They had us early on — they had us when we were ten in 2001, and we were so easily lured. We were drawn in by our own naiveté and the fact that, like Harry, the thing we knew best was the inside of our own closet. And we found out, like The Boy Who Lived, that there is just a small step between learning what you are and engaging in what will cost you your life — that is to say, your life.

One of the most entertaining aspects of Harry Potter was watching Harry and his friends grow up; it is sobering to realize they are now adults. Did you notice how many times parents and relatives are outdone by their offspring? Hermione doesn't give her parents much of a choice when the Dark Lord comes: she Obliviates them. Harry sends his relatives off packing; even Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy cower behind Draco a few times. As such, Harry and his peers become rebels much in the same way that Voldemort did. It is only the confines of the movie’s plot preventing them from going berserk, drunk on power.

Well, not quite. When the trio infiltrates the Ministry of Magic looking for a locket horcrux, it is amusing not only because of the famous Polyjuice Potion plot device but also because the potion gives them bodies that they wear badly, like new clothes. This discomfort characterizes the whole movie, mostly in scenes involving Harry and Hermione together. They look curiously childish, especially during a scene in which Harry pleads with his best friend to destroy the horcrux. As the locket explodes and Voldemort's soul seeps out, Ron is confronted with his worst nightmare: a world in which he is not needed or wanted. Spectres of Harry and Hermione engage in an embrace which expresses what they feel but don’t dare express, trapped as they are in that strange space between childhood and adulthood.

This partially funny, partially painful tension between Harry, Ron and Hermione strikes a chord in the film that it never did in the book, since the film version of Harry constantly attempts to come onto her where his print counterpart was content with Ginny. The extended slow dance in the tent between Harry and Hermione, as well as their almost-kiss will spawn a decade's worth of fanfiction among faithful Harry/Hermione supporters. Never mind that the film could have been doing something much more interesting at this point. As always, Ron's inexhaustible comic relief throughout is comforting, proving once and for all that even after ten years some things never change. Ultimately, this is why Hermione will end up with him. Everything comes back to logic.

Meanwhile Harry pulls a Bella Swan and claims he's not worth dying for (conveniently after Mad-Eye already has), and also begins to engage in self-destructive behavior. I lost several imaginary extremities to imaginary frostbite every time I saw him diving into freezing water and walking around barefoot in the snow.

Speaking of clothes, the wizards are substantially underdressed for the weather. Only an Urban Outfitters model (and hobbits) can pose in snowy climes barefoot and wearing nothing but a pea coat, thank you very much. Later, the cast dons flannel and jeans on the beach while mourning the death of a house elf. I had forgotten that part from the book, but was so distracted by Harry's wet denim and sandy knees (pet peeve!) that I could not sympathize.

Visually, Yates' direction doesn't disappoint. The spirited animation of the tale of the three brothers constitutes a welcome refuge from the film's ubiquitous forest settings. Forlorn landscapes reminiscent of Forks, US of A engage in an almost Romantic entanglement with Harry's moods. At one point, I could have almost sworn Yates replicated Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. The magical creatures are fewer in this film than in previous ones, which is probably why they felt forced.

When Kreacher appeared, I wanted to ask why there was an elf in the cupboard, and then remembered where I was. And like anything else, Voldemort was far scarier when nobody said his name and when he didn't have a corporeal body. The faceless intruder in your closet is always scarier than the one you can identify. He is especially (and only) scary when you can't remember what films he had a nose in and when he played Heathcliff opposite Juliette Binoche.

We saw far too much of him, and far too little of all the people I really wanted to see: Harry’s parents, Snape (although we did see his Patronus), and a fully clothed Ginny Weasley. I suppose that we will have to wait another six months for the real fun to begin, and by that I mean that we will actually be able to shed this dust jacket of a first part and dive into the crooked binding of J.K Rowling’s imagination, if you will excuse the poorly executed metaphor. See you in 2011. 

Kara VanderBijl is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her previous work on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about Rene Magritte. She tumbls here.

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In Which They Say I'm A Womanizer? I Haven't Met Enough Women Yet

Men In Revolt


This just in: according to the neurotic Jews and WASPs of the last decade's fiction, American men don't know how exactly they should be acting about sex. This is brand new information! Does masculinity focus on being too self-absorbed? Is femininity still too much about self-abnegation? Is literature self-absorbed? Did Warren Beatty tell Peter Biskind that Jane Fonda can unhinge her jaw like a python? Is Sol the cold sun?

Done are the days of Vice Magazine's tits and cocaine ethos, as are the nu-80s that were the 00s. Somebody tell John Mayer before he threatens to date rape us again. C'mon John, I'm a polymath too, there's no need to keep screaming out for approval constantly. You want to be respected as a comedian? Knock up Jennifer Aniston.

I kid, I kid. Everyone knows the problem with Jen An is that she's too submissive, and what John Mayer needs is a strong top. That's what Brad Pitt needed (also rimjobs). Maybe John Mayer should fuck Madonna? I sort of like Madonna more now that I know she taunted Warren Beatty at gay discos for not dancing with "hey pussy man!"

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Meanwhile the not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman demographic is flooded with New Moon and Taylor Swift. Transgressive as their popularity alone may be, both Twilight and Taylor ascribe to a world view that too many fourteen year girls are already inoculated with. An entirely boy-centric romatic one, where nothing is interesting unless it involves crushes and the surrounding drama. Even fifth wave feminist Megan Fox admits there's no such thing as Megan Fox. No wonder Mahnola is fucking pissed.

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I read Michael Chabon's Manhood For Amateurs. The cover has a neat conceit, but it doesn't actually work, a metaphor for masculinity if ever there was one. There are essays about being a son and brother written in the kind of clean clipped front lawn style associated with Richard Ford and the dignity of restrained masculine emotions.

There are essays about fatherhood, married life, and courting his wife that seem overly tailored to the idea that his children might read them someday, which makes them read somewhat dishonestly. There are also a couple of essays about his first marriage and various youthful sexual indiscretions that are frank and detailed (which is not to say erotic) enough to give readers major secondhand embarrassment.

Maybe this is the worst kind of criticism to give these practitioners of the new earnest manhood, but god is it boring. Not that this validates the grand tradition of geniuses as tremendous bastards. One can be a tremendous bastard without being an author or a genius and vice versa. I'm not saying Chabon should go for a ride and never come back, but he should definitely at least stop over-supervising his children's playtime.

In another essay, Chabon admits his worst failing is an inability to write three dimensional female characters. Looking back, it's kinda true. While I commend his honesty, I never understand this, even though it's something I occasionally hear from men. I always say "write a male character, then give them a female name." 

As a girl you grow up seeing yourself in male characters, because (unfortunately) the cool ones are still mostly men. One of the reasons I picked Adventureland as my favorite movie of last year is that it had fully fleshed out and well written characters of both genders. Chabon recognizes that his tendency towards seeing women as mysterious is wrong, but finds it very hard to shake. There is no mystery to women. There is plenty of mystery to sex, but it's equally mysterious to everyone.

For my money, Wonder Boys is still Chabon's best book, and as much as he loves fantasy and genre, the farther away he gets from reality the less interested and invested I get in the characters. This is just a personal preference, I would rather read smaller scale character studies, but I also think that emotional observation is a core component of his talents as a writer. Besides, the genre fic thing is beyond played out. New novels by all writers starting now in 2010 are forbidden from involving the following things: comic books, detectives, baseball, magicians, the holocaust

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Anyway if Katie Roiphe is underwhelmed and unoffended by the sexually neutered males of Brooklyn fiction, she should check out this vast cultural wasteland called the internet. The best writing about sex is currently being done by the people who are smart/stupid enough to date and write about it. Dating wasn't even really invented until the 1950s, it's no wonder nobody knows how to do it.

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If I were a man, which is something I've obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about, I would feel as insulted by the bulk of male culture as I am by most things steered to women. The men I know are nothing like the caricatures of "men" I see advertised to me everywhere. They are not oafs or jerks or lazy misogynists. They have more feelings than they know what to do with. They are real people, and they deserve to be insulted by what masculinity has come to represent.

The best advice I have ever heard about sex, romance, and masculinity is from porn star/P.T. Anderson muse John Holmes in Exhausted: John Holmes The Real Story.

"You don’t have to be overly macho. You don’t have to be over-complimentary. Gain her respect. And that’s treating her as an equal. Don’t bullshit her. Treat her as a human being. Treat her as you would treat yourself. As soon as you have that respect from her, she’ll treat you with the same respect that you show. Then you fuck the shit out of her." - John Curtis Holmes 

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls and twitters.

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In Which There Are No Vampires Left In New York

The Once and Future Fairytale


There are those of us who are too stiff-fingered, too hardened by our many years around the merry-go-round to feel the tug of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga. As stories go, this is one that's come around many times before.

We all know the gist by now: first love; a lion and a lamb; star-crossed lovers; suffering and redemption; a life given meaning by the presence of the other. Twilight tacks on vampires, a YA label, and a happy ending? just enough to make this book appropriate for the younger set. It also gives us a boy and a girl so consumed by their love for another that they are willing to endure any sacrifice, any indignity, any bodily pain or mental anguish for the sake of the other's happiness. For Bella and Edward, the complete erasure of the self would not to be too great a sacrifice to express the totality of their devotion. The Story of O doesn't have much on the Twilight Saga. On the other hand, Jesus might.

A couple of nights after New Moon was released, I gave into the onslaught: to Caitlin Flanagan's piece in The Atlantic, to my married cousin's A++ reviews, to K-Stew and R-Pattz with his sanpaku eyes. I read all four books in one stretch and I dreamt hazy dreams which, unlike Bella, I can't remember, but, like Bella, I awoke disturbed, conscious of things unsettled inside of me: subdued desires, long-resigned ideals.

It's pure fantasy, of course, pure revisionist nostalgia, unrealistic not because of its vampires and werewolves, but because of the way it limns that old story, the first fairy tale: that love is the whole history of a woman's life. To enter into the Twilight world is to slip into a lost continent, a Gondwanaland of the hormones that existed for a brief moment before the violence of experience tore everything apart. There is no shading here, neither in the book's thematic treatment nor in the extraordinary literalness of the writing itself. Light pools. Shadows bloom. Skin is either winter cold or burning hot. The story unwinds like the pet fantasy of teenage girl, lingering on every thought and touch and observation. No action is presented without being analyzed. No misunderstanding is cleared up if it can be dragged on for a hundred pages. And, if that misunderstanding is nearly fatal, if Bella can be pushed to the brink of destruction, and Edward can be left hating himself for bringing her so far, so much the better. The resolution is that much sweeter. The "torture the woman" school of storytelling has never gone out of style.

Despite all the atmospheric gloom, this is a universe of blinding emotional and moral clarity. Twilight is no noir; it's a nighttime soap opera in high key lighting. For Bella, Edward and beleaguered best friend Jacob, love is the light that illuminates everything. Pain is the result of confusion, of trying to force things together that don't fit, or of trying to keep things apart that are meant to be together. And the ultimate lesson Twilight offers, the notion that hooks so many starry-eyed girls, is that love will never betray you. That is: The boy will always come back to you. The best friend will be there for you. Even your parents, however much they question your decisions, will melt in the face of any prospective unhappiness and ultimately support you.

The lesson of modern life, in contrast, is rather the opposite. In life as I know it, among all the savvy boys and girls gliding in dark jeans down the Bowery, it's simply not safe to feel the way Bella feels about Edward. We were seventeen once, but now we know better. After years of dating, of crashing in and out of love, of the resulting flattening of the soul, the damaged ego, the imagined humiliations most of us have learned that it is prudent to set the dial low. To love that much, to have one's happiness revolve so completely around another person, is a recipe for disaster. To love someone that much is to give them the power to hurt you, and which one of us wants to go through all of that again?

And yet, I awoke one morning after consuming some 2400 pages of emotional pornography and wondered at the cost of a highly developed instinct for self-preservation. It's that instinct that separates Bella from me: there's a lot I wouldn't do for love; there' nothing Bella wouldn't. Ever the intrepid heroine, neither college, nor career, nor villainous vampires and nor a rib-shattering Rosemary's baby can swerve her from her single-minded devotion. For the millions of Twilight fans, Bella's is an ideal worth emulating. For the pink-sweatered kids among them, well, life hasn't taught them any better yet. As for the others, the mothers and the grandmothers and the young marrieds like my cousin, there somehow still exists a secret self, one that doesn't belong to the drudgery of car pools or cubicles or two-for-one supermarket specials; a secret self that swells in the night, pleasuring itself with dreams of fevered romanticism.

That secret self doesn't question Bella's sanity when she announces that Edward loves her unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally. It doesn't find Edward's beauty (bronze haired, angel-like, sparkly in the sunlight) as cheap as a Chinatown trinket. Nor does it wince at the lengthy arguments about who loves the other better, nor cringe at the words forever, soul mate and lines in the tenor of eyes like stars or meteors in a moonless sky. As the sold out midnight screenings across America testify, this is a secret self that still knows how to swoon.

The experts say that Bella is a terrible role model, and I daresay they are right. But what they seem to assume is that weaning a girl on feminist approved YA books will set her course straight for life which is not unlike saying that a kid raised on a sugar free diet will always win a battle with an ice cream sundae. As any girl who loved Talking to Dragons as well as Wuthering Heights and still ended up betting it all on the love the first time and maybe even the second time can attest, it's only experience that can work that kind of magic. It takes a broken heart to make lessons about not falling for the wrong kind of guy stick. And then, chastened, wary, more certain of ourselves, instead of mooning over prom dates and first kisses, we learn to focus our energy on work and career, on engaging with the outside world and shaping it in ways we can control. We think in terms of realpolitik. We separate sex from romance. We learn to self-actualize. Some of us do yoga. Some of us are man-eaters. Some of us are in relationships with a good enough kind of guy.

Most of all, we resign ourselves to the knowledge that - irrevocably, unconditionally, irrationally - is only for the crazies. After a while, we forget what it felt like to even harbor that craving. I loved my last boyfriend, though never in the swooning sort of way, and we spent two years together until I decided to take an extended trip outside of the States. I said we'll take a break but then I never came back. This was easy because I never expected us to do anything but fail in the long run; my running out on him was just an accelerated means to an already foregone conclusion.

It is a sign of my apathy that I regard my own romantic history with a certain amount of cynicism. This is in contrast to Bella who catalogs every moment of Edward's courtship and charges them with torrid and terrible portent. I could tell you about my first love (he changed his name after we broke up; I dropped out of school) or my second love (he said, "I can't do this anymore, I need to focus on my art"; I felt my entire existence had been negated) but it's hard to muster the enthusiasm to go beyond the barest details. Somewhere along the way, maybe around the time my best friend called me after watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona to inform me that I was definitely Cristina, or the summer all four of my siblings stayed with me and my boyfriend in our loft on Varick Street and each of them told me separately that they couldn't stand him, or maybe it was just after I quit my last job and realized that I was broke and we weren't in love and that maybe I'd never write a damn thing worth publishing - it occurred to me that love wasn't the most important thing to me after all.

Do you ever really recover from heartbreak? Bella is never unlucky to have to find out. What I know is that the boy from whom you were once inseparable will indeed move on from you, and sometimes good friends, great friends, will disappear so deep into their own drama that they are no longer capable of being there for you. The world spins on. You soldier on. And if you can hold on to your secret, swooning, sweatered self while you do, then so much the better for you. It's not such a terrible thing to wish for Bella's innocence. There are far worse things to face in the daylight.

Shahirah Majumdar is a contributor to This Recording. You can find her website here.

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