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.

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romanticism and the DADT repeal

The DADT repeal got signed yesterday, and the rhetoric around it, which I mostly agree with, tells us this is a good thing. The hope, of course, is that a country willing to let me die for it, might soon be willing to let me live for it and so go on to pass things like ENDA and DoMA. On the other hand, getting excited about the opportunity to go to war – which, lest we forget, is generally an endeavor that involves killing people – is a fairly uncomfortable idea.

It’s also a romantic one, and as a people whose government arguably does not wish us to love and whose pop-culture paints us too often as weak or ugly, it’s pretty easy to see why queer people might be inclined to romanticize violence and uniforms.

Of course, romanticizing war isn’t something that’s limited to queer people in the throes of a civil rights victory. For a lot of writers, it’s practically a job requirement, which is what’s got me thinking about Arkady.

Arkady’s the main character in the novel Kali and I are writing. It doesn’t have a name yet, but we call it Unbanked in our work on it, due to our having realized that the best way we could solve a major world-building problem we were having was to use the European banking crisis as a metaphor.

It’s a difficult book. It’s about ambition, antiheroes and colonialism. It’s about people doing horrible things for what are really perfectly reasonable reasons. It’s also about love and war and magic. And it’s very, very queer.

In Arkady’s world, everything and everyone is a game of allies. And the rules of taking lovers, particularly of the same sex, are as complex and as formal as those for heterosexual marriage in this book. One doesn’t replace the other in Arkady’s world; in his world, families accumulate and extend through desire. Which isn’t a fantastic deal for a low-born, obscenely-talented scholarship boy with incredibly wealthy and dangerous friends who don’t make the best choices when it comes to self-preservation.

About 40% of the way through the book, after a precipitating hideous event about which I will not tell you at present, Arkady is forced to ask the people he loves most in the world to buy him a commission in the army so he can leave their sides and go on an adventure that may uncover the one piece of information that will allow them to extricate themselves from the political and magical morass in which they’ve embroiled themselves.

All of which means, Kali and I spend a lot of time talking about regiments of an army of a country that never existed stationed on a front at a colony that never was and how someone gifted and sharp grows into a man who is ruthless and calm by trying to hold things together at the muddy edge of his known world.

It’s a hard journey to write without romance, and it’s not one we’d want to write without romance. But it must be just the right sort of romance. As writers, we must be cautious where Arkady is not, where his lovers are not, where his charges are not, where the woman he effectively requisitions from her family to be his field secretary is not (and lest you think this is just a story about men, it is not; she is awesome and not the love interest).

It’s hard work. But it’s also pleasurable. It’s an indulgence. And sometimes, to be frank, that worries me. Other times, I feel like we’re getting it just right.

In the wake of the DADT repeal, I keep thinking about is something a Tumblr blogger who said the other day: “The military is full of poor people, and people of color. Now it gets to be full of queer people too. And you wonder why i’m sad today?”

That quote pulled me back down to a certain reality – as a queer person, as an activist, and as a writer. What will legalized open military service mean ultimately to LGB people (remember, no T here; trans people received no positive benefit from the DADT repeal) both individually and collectively? Will we use the military or will it use us?

Kali and I know everything about Arkady’s journey. We know what his service does to him. But we haven’t philosophically decided if that means he uses or is used.

Arkady’s a character I have a lot of love for, and the things he has to sacrifice are weighing heavily on my mind tonight. When other avenues of perspective fail me, Arkady has a habit of reminding me that stories are powerful, dangerous things, and that’s true of any through-line, assembled from fact or from fiction.

So the DADT repeal is great symbolism. It will also be a huge good in the lives of a great many LGB people who have served and continue to serve with honor, fortitude and courage and have suffered significantly and needlessly under the complete absurdity of DADT.

But I do wonder, I must wonder – simply because I make up stories to breathe – whether in the long term, in the balance of things, we will use this or be used by it.

The repeal of DADT deserves celebration. But it also deserves solemnity. And questioning.

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.