Over the last several years, the week between Christmas and New Year’s has become an orgy of media consumption for me. A not insignificant part of the reason for this is that I usually spend the week visiting with my partner’s family in Ohio. Since she and I are both non-drivers, our activities here are usually governed by factors we can’t control, which means we spend a lot of time watching DVDs at the house and a decent amount of time going to movies that we — or at least I — wouldn’t ordinarily see.

Tangled was one such choice, although Patty had gotten me excited about it via her favorite movie blog (sorry, dude, I don’t actually know what it’s called, so no shout out) when we were in Cardiff in the fall. For me, even the faintest desire to go to this thing was pretty odd as I tend to go for wrenching drama over family fare and I claim, despite my parents being artists, not to have the receptor sites for animation.

So when I tell you that you should stop what you are doing and go see Tangled immediately, you should absolutely listen to me. If you’ve seen any marketing for it at all, you know it’s the Rapunzel story. And if you’ve paid any attention to that marketing you may have walked away with the sense that the boy is an idiot and the girl falls in love with him anyway and isn’t that just revolting?

Well, that’s not what happens. It’s more like Rapunzel is Buffy Summers. She’s super feminine, and she doesn’t want to make her mom sad (okay, her mom turns out to be evil, and Joyce was never evil except when she was a fake Joyce), but dammit, she wants to leave her tower, even though it seems scary, and see these lights that have been calling to her, her whole life. And how’s she going to do that? Well, a thief named Flynn Rider (odd and confusing after having seen Tron: Legacy a few days ago — who wants to write me that crossover?), who’s sort of super competent but complete crap at applying that competency, has just stumbled into her tower. She’ll get him to help, and so they set off on an adventure.

And this is where, despite entirely forgettable songs Tangled becomes completely awesome. Because it’s not a story about a scared girl in the big bad world. It’s a story about identity, and the gulf between who we are and who we want to be and how we get caught up in stories and use them to make and remake ourselves. It’s also a story that absolutely celebrates physicality, both in the slapstick way one expects from animation and in a simple, real, glorious and human way as Rapunzel sees the world outside of her tower. The dancing in this film, especially in the one musical number without words, really does feel like dancing, to the point that for someone like me it was hard not to be up on my feet in the theater.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the film, however, is how much the tyranny of Disney gender roles almost isn’t in play. And it’s not a simple reversal either. Both our lead characters have traditionally male and female traits. The boy isn’t weak for being gentle and liking stories. The girl can defend herself physically, but isn’t held up as, or worse, vilified as, a tomboy (hence the Buffy Summers comparison). And while other people keep framing Rapunzel and Flynn’s interactions in the context of relationship stuff, it’s really the B story.

At the end of the film, the two do live happily ever after, and for half a second, Disney does the most daring thing I could have possibly imagined in a Disney film, and it made me want to stand up and cheer. However, after a pause, the characters inform us it’s a good-natured joke. Weirdly, though, I still wanted to stand up and cheer, because for Disney it was a revolution.

I often walk out of films wanting to conquer the world. I don’t often walk out of films wanting to do it wearing a dress.

Run, don’t walk, to this one.

Tron: Legacy

I have just seen Tron: Legacy, and it’s like someone made a terrible, terrible movie just for me. Actually, let me amend that, it’s like someone made a terrible, terrible porntastic militaria movie just for me. And, despite those two sentences, there are multiple elements of the film which are not only exceptionally well-done, but actually merit significant analysis, which I probably won’t quite manage to get to here.

But before I can talk about the new Tron, I have to talk about the old Tron, or, at least, the fact that I saw it on the big screen when it was released. I was born in 1972, after all. I grew up playing pinball when it was five balls for a quarter, and one of the first places I was allowed to go on my myself was the arcade seven blocks from our apartment where I played Pac-Man and Galaga and Centipede and, yes, Tron, although that stopped after someone got beaten to death with a baseball bat there and the arcade closed down a few months later. In short, I am a child of the 80s who grew up dreaming of nightclubs in warehouses, apocalyptic futures, and world where every boy (and me!) dressed like Adam Ant.

Which, if you’ve already seen Tron: Legacy is really all the explanation you need as to why I loved it so much in spite of its truly awful and unnecessary dialogue and largely incomprehensible collage of a script. Honestly, if the entire film had been made without a word uttered once they were in the Grid, it would be equally, if not more effective, that what we received. The visuals and score do all the narrative lifting (the score is one of the best film scores you will ever encounter); without dialogue Tron: Legacy would go from exceptionally executed frippery around a crap core to deeply weird art. It’s not a transition that would work for everyone, but I’m pretty near sure it would work.

What’s perhaps the most remarkable about Tron: Legacy is the degree to which it is a love letter, not to video games, digital media, or the Internet (a concept wisely excluded from the history of the film’s world), but to the stories in which we might wish to dwell (this is not, on some level, dissimilar to Inception which tells us the most about what it’s really about in the difference between how Arthur dresses in the dream and outside of the dream). Flynn, at all costs, at every cost finds a way to take himself into the machine — the world he most adores. And in that world we are treated to the visual DNA of dozens of stories we have loved, or feared.

I’m not sure how intentional it all is — after all us SF/F fans and creators know our stuff — and it’s nearly obligation that we reference our passions consciously or unconsciously. But off the top of my head, here’s what I found lurking in this film:

  • Torchwood and Angel – broody man pain on the roof.
  • Doctor Who – the eye-stalk here doesn’t just disintegrate, but reintegrates onto the grid; the girls that strip Sam Flynn and redress him (think Jack on the Game Station).
  • Blade Runner – the opening cityscape, Gem in her clear raincoat and parasol, and a chunk of dialogue that put me in mind of the “I’ve seen things you can’t even imagine” speech.
  • Star Trek – need I say Borg?
  • Star Wars – the robes, the meditation, the dual-bladed red light weapon, the gun-turret in the dogfight, and of course Star Wars‘s own tendency to visit Triumph of the Will.
  • The Last Starfighter – the video games, and again with the gun turret.
  • Cabaret – every single moment with Zuse.
  • The Giorgio Moroder cut of Metropolis – biplanes in the future! multi-level highways! Yoshiwara’s House of Sin! The electronica. It’s all hiding in here.
  • Apple’s 1984 commercial – which, again, owes an uncomfortable aesthetic debt to Riefenstahl
  • The Matrix – pretty much the whole movie, but The Matrix, if not smarter, is at least more philosophically interesting by being gnostic (especially the second one); Tron: Legacy is pretty much the opposite of that.
  • Babylon 5 – the ship that carries them to the army factory, some of the mythology.
  • Max Headroom – that boardroom was entirely “20 minutes into the future.”
  • Neuromancer – that chick was Molly Millions not just before she became a razor girl, but before she became a whore.
  • The Fifth Element – innocent perfect chick who can save the world; campy performer who winds up in the middle of the mess; weird partial face masks.

And I bet a bunch of you tracked on a whole ton of stuff I missed either because I don’t know the source, or because I was spending so much time being utterly turned on by this film that I feel as torn about praising as I do about trashing. If you did see stuff like the above, I hope you’ll share in comments.

But yow, this film was hot. Scorching, scorching hot. Which perhaps says more than any of us want to know about the impact my video game childhood had on my sexuality. But I loved the regimented quality of the film, the uniforms, the growling of the corrupted Tron, and a movement design (which was gorgeous — as a dancer, I knew the physical sensation of being each and every character because we saw the command to move before each move then executed through style and purpose) that seemed to say this is your flesh and it will be ferocious. Also, if you’ve got a thing for power-differentials, fetish-wear or mind control porn, this film will find your buttons and then sit on them for two hours, all without giving us so much as a kiss. Let’s say it again, all together now: Yow.

Finally, some of the most intriguing stuff in this film was the least explored, and ultimately was why it’s both compelling and irritating, even outside of the mostly awful dialogue. The re-writing of Tron (the program), will, no doubt, be a subject of fanfiction for months to come. Clu’s henchman who turns out to support Users — another great unexplored story. Zuse was amazing, and my vote for the man to be cosplaying at Dragon*Con 2011. And what was up with Alan? Because was it just me or were he and Sam’s dad totally doing it way back before Flynn, Sr. disappeared?

Anyway, it’s late. That was scorching hot and weird. And I only got four hours of sleep last night. So me? I’ll be in my bunk.

P.S. – I still hate 3D, but I am totally going to see that Carmen (yes, the opera!) in 3D thing. Because that? That is my life coming hilariously full circle.

the way onward

In January 2005 I was in Australia at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum when an announcement came over the PA system there to head to the auditorium if we wanted to see the first transmissions from Titan as they came in. I burst into tears.

Australia, where I had gone to study acting, was good but difficult for me. And Titan and I have always had a special relationship because of a film called Gattaca, which is about the highly stylized astronaut dreams of a guy named Eugene, born disadvantaged in a genetically engineered society because his parents decided to leave his form and function to chance and have a “faith birth.”

Eventually, through a business transaction and a subsequent friendship, Eugene is able to forge his identity as someone superiorly genetically engineered and so achieves his dream of going to Titan. His leaving scene at the end of the film, his secrets exposed to someone disinclined to stop him, always makes me sob. Because, while the film never tells us Titan is a one way trip, it’s quite clear that Eugene isn’t coming back. It’s in the music and the cinematography and the metaphor woven throughout of the way Eugene used to beat his genetically engineered younger brother at swimming races as a child; When asked how he did what he should not have been able to do, Eugene says, breathless and near drowning, “I never saved anything for the way back.”

For a lot of my life, I felt a lot like Eugene. There was all this stuff I wasn’t supposed to be good at — not with the funny teeth and awkward limbs, not with the heart murmur or the glasses or the wonky social skills. But I got wrathful in my ambition young, and the truth is, I’m actually pretty good at a lot of stuff. But that’s often been a hard thing for me to believe, and so Eugene and his borrowed identity of Jerome and the story of Gattaca has been a talisman to me since I saw it alone in a theater the night it came out. I have never saved anything for the way back — this is just one remark from the stories of men that’s become a tenet in the story of me. Eugene borrowed genetic material to be what he already was. Me? I suppose I borrow stories.

If you’re reading this now as I post it, you probably know me from Livejournal, and you’ve probably heard this story before. But this time part of the story is about why I’m choosing to tell it over here. Livejournal is, and has been, an awesome place for me. I’ve met friends there, and my partner, and done a hell of a lot of accidental networking that’s allowed me to parlay my obsessive interest in a whole bunch of pop-culture things (many of them of the SF/F variety, hence one of the reasons for the name of this blog) into professional work as an essayist, scholar, and con guest. In short: Livejournal is great for a lot of stuff.

Unfortunately, that’s somehow inspired a culture on Livejournal that’s often about excelling at things on Livejournal and cutting down people who excel at things off Livejournal. The first part of that’s not a terrible thing in and of itself — and not even relevant to the bulk of people who use LJ as a place to hang out with their friends, vent about their days, and connect with others who share common interests — but for me, lately, particularly in light of the second part, it’s become a little bit stifling. Being good at writing on Livejournal or excelling at social justice on Livejournal or having networking skills on Livejournal aren’t goalposts that are working for me right now. In some cases, because I’ve met those goals; in other cases, because I simply don’t know how to anymore if I ever did.

So, welcome to a new blog where I don’t do exciting link dumps (you’ll have to visit the LJ for that, as I doubt I could give my voracious reading and pasting a rest) or write fanfiction (again, something that’ll stay on LJ because that’s where the relevant community is), but where I do, do things like talk for more than three paragraphs at a time about politics and television and film and writing and making art and being queer and having a thing for custom tailoring and having grown up in a rapidly vanishing New York.

This place is named Letters from Titan because SF/F topics are both a professional and personal specialty of mine. And it’s named Letters from Titan because my life is more than a little bit My Life on the Geek List because of people I know, cons I go to, and speaking engagements I get to do. It’s also named Letters from Titan because I was once Eugene, because it’s colder closer to the stars, and because I am not ashamed of excellence any more than I am afraid of the terrible affair that seems to exist between those who are told they are nothing and ambition. It is not, however, named Letters from Titan because I am in any way related to a mythological giant who eats babies, but that can be a matter for debate if you’d like.

My name’s Racheline. My friends call me Rach. If you only know me from public online communications, you should probably call me RM. I do a lot of stuff. I’m pretty good at most of it. I’m also a slob and a procrastinator and full of self-doubt. But I believe in me and I believe in the future, all because I once burst into tears in the middle of a museum on the other side of the world.

I write these letters home to remind myself that I’m okay.

It’s nice to meet you.

Be grand.