Finding the link: Fangirls and feminists

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again: I’m a fangirl. My fandoms are many and varied, but I am passionate about each and everyone. And that’s all it means to be a fangirl: To be a person who identifies as female and to have a deep passion for…something. For me that is a variety of books, movies and television shows. And I shouldn’t have to feel the need to defend that passion, nor should the term fangirl be a negative adjective. Unfortunately, it is often used that way. Sam Maggs says “No more!” in The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxywhich I received a preview of from NetGalley. As Maggs explains, when someone questions your undying love for Star Wars (or Harry Potter, Tolkien, Star Trek, Firefly, etc., etc., etc.): 

“Remind them (and yourself!) that throughout history, the best kinds of literature – the ones that have survived the longest – are the books that touch people on a human level. Your fandoms are like that: fiction, no matter the form, allows you to live a thousand meaningful experiences and relationships that you could never have in real life. Getting invested in a fictional world means you have a wonderful imagination, a big heart, and the capacity for endless creativity. No one can say anything bad about that.” p. 39

But it’s not the fan part of fangirl that gets a bad rap. Often it’s the girl part. It’s a sad reality that boys/men letting their geek flag fly face less popular resistance compared to the reaction when girls/women do the same thing. Granted, men who spend time in comic book shops (or other stereotypes like that) get to be the butt of more than a few jokes, even though they shouldn’t. Fanboys/men are generally awesome and fun to hang out with and shouldn’t be judged for their interests. But women not only get joked on from outside the geek community – as men do – but from within the geek community, as well, often from those same men that face prejudice from non-geeks. (Note: This is not true of everyone. The male geeks I have encountered have more often than not encouraged me when I expressed interest in a specific subset of geek culture.)

I have a confession: There has been a large chunk of my life in which I disliked feminism. I didn’t actively attack it. I treated it the same way I treat other things I didn’t want to deal with or didn’t support: I just ignored it. It’s not that I hate women, I just hate the big deal that is made out of girl power. Which I admit is kind of crazy, seeing as how I am a woman, I identify as such, and I admire powerful women, whether they be real, like Wendy Davis, or fictional, like Zoë Washburne. I like to believe we live in a society where we’ve moved past the need to point out that girls have power, too. It’s just a fact, or at least it was, in my worldview. Yes, I know this is naive and even lazy of me. And recent news stories have proved that my idealist view of the world is way off.  From the continued pay gap between men and women to the horrible Internet trolls that have attacked women for daring to be geeks have forced me to think about my own beliefs.

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Movie review: "Wendy and Lucy"

For Christmas, my dad bought me “Wendy and Lucy.” Little did he know I had been eyeing this film for months after seeing a trailer and reading a fairly positive review. His reason for purchasing it: “It’s a girl and a dog on the cover. I figured, Beth will like this, right?”

I must admit, I decided to write a review of the film for today’s post without watching it first, thinking it’d be a cinch. I’ve spent the last several hours trying to come up with the best way to adequately describe the film.

A gritty portrayal of a young person down on her luck, “Wendy and Lucy” is an independent film from Kelly Reichardt, starring Michelle Williams as Wendy and a gorgeous mutt as Lucy. But this movie was so much more than a film about hard times. It was a portrayal of life in small-town Oregon, as well as how humans react in the face of poverty. It is also, at it’s very core, about a girl and her dog.
The film opens as train clacks by in the seeming wilderness. Our introduction to Wendy and Lucy is one of them at play, Wendy throwing a stick and Lucy romping around after it. It seems very innocent, until Lucy wanders off into a bunch of rough, outsiders around a bonfire. That’s when you get your first close-up glimpse at the dirty face and worn clothes that Wendy is wearing. And so, in the first five minutes, Reichardt is able to easily and poetically put Wendy and Lucy’s life of general poverty into a visual nutshell.
Wandering from town to town in search of work, the two have only each other when confronted by strangers and meager times.
Gut reactions
This, to me, seemed like the essence of the story: As Wendy and Lucy fall asleep in Wendy’s broken down car, Wendy whispers, “Night, baby girl.”
As I said, the film is first and foremost a poignant look at the love between a girl and her dog. Reichardt then steers it toward darker landscapes, as we are confronted with a grocery store clerk so set on doing right and following rules that he breaks the best friends apart, setting the real story in motion. You also glimpse the townfolk’s reaction to this rough young woman sleeping in her car, the car repairman who is woefully ignorant of Wendy’s troubles, the shifty homeless population that accosts the newcomer and (thankfully for the redemption of the human race) the congenial night guard who aids Wendy in her time of need.
In the end, if you’re anything like me, you’ll cry at the heartbreak, rage at the hypocrisy and smile at the small token of friendship that gives you the tiniest glimpse of the goodness we wish all people were capable of.
I think the beauty of the film lies in the grittiness of Reichardt’s videography and lighting and in the gentle lesson that she lays out for the viewer, without shoving it down your throat. There’s also a lovely circularity to the progression of the story, where the beginning is darkly mirrored by the events of the ending.
Bottom line
Watch it, but be prepared that it is not a happy-go-lucky film. And that is what’s great about it, I think, that it’s not the same old movie fodder we’ve been force-fed recently. But please soak up and enjoy the beginning. Because, even if you’re nothing like me, I bet that when the film ends, you’ll wish you could actually go back to the first five minutes of the movie, where a content Wendy is humming softly to her happy-go-lucky dog as they play fetch in the woods.

"Every one has a wild side. Even a legend."

It started my Sophomore year in college. I stumbled across a class simply entitled ‘The History of Film: 1900-1954.’ In that class I found an obsession for most silent movies. I love them, to be honest. My favorites? Well if it isn’t obvious by now, I suppose I’ll have to smack you over the head with it: silent comedies! It’s as if we lost something in translation when we introduced talkies. I’m not sure what it is, but now we rely way too much on the spoken word and not enough of the media worth a thousand words (pictures).
My favorite, all-time silent film comedian is of course the late, great Charlie Chaplin (pictured above). I’ve written several papers analyzing his work. More than that, though, is that whenever I’m down, I can always count on a good Chaplin short to cheer me up.

But let’s be honest. The quality of the films is generally not the best. They are all over fifty years old, many more than that, so such a thing is to be expected. So, how do you get the beauty and simplicity of good old fashioned Chaplin, and yet the satisfication of watching something longer and meatier than 5 minutes? You watch a biopic, of course.

Ah, the biopic has jumped back into mainstream movie-making recently, though these new movies have focused more on the life and times of musical stars like Ray Charles (Ray) or Bob Dylan (I’m Not There). The biopic, Chaplin, left, that I recently stumbled upon is from 1992 and stars Robert Downey, Jr. (of Iron Man fame).
It was actually quite hard for me to picture the loud, obnoxious and arrogant Tony Stark in such a quiet role. And yet Downey somehow pulls it off perfectly, capturing both the ethereal hilarity of Chaplin’s The Tramp and his off-putting obsession with the next cute, usually much younger, girl.
Boasting the tagline that is also the title of this post, Chaplin begins in black and white. You watch as The Tramp goes from being the doorway-framed sillohuette of the world-famous character (see movie poster below) to a man wiping his stage makeup off. In this opening scene the creators of the film offer you the knowledge that this is not a movie about The Tramp (his most famous character who many thought was the way Chaplin was in real life), but about Chaplin … the man. What strikes me is how much like The Tramp Downey is in his portrayal throughout the film. It makes for a wonderful beginning to an interesting movie. And later, you see Downey as Chaplin the man, and its obvious why making this movie was so off-putting for his daugher (who starred as Chaplin’s mother) at times.
For the rest of the film, told from the viewpoint of an elderly Chaplin working with his editor to nail down the final touches to his biography, the movie recalls Chaplin’s life in his own words. With guest appearances from Anthony Hopkins (his editor), Kevin Kline (the comedian Douglas Fairbanks, who was Chaplin’s best friend) and Geraldine Chaplin (Chaplin’s real-life daughter who plays his mother in the film), the movie is actually a stark representation of how Chaplin became who he was. He, of course, is not without his problems, and yet the movie still holds his art to be the most important topic, as I believe obsessive-compulsive Chaplin would consider it to be.
My favorite scene: Chaplin’s description of the birth of The Tramp.
Most poignant scene: His fight with his brother over why Chaplin must make “The Great Dictator.”

Bottom line

From the opening scene to the final credits, it’s a great movie. Watch it, if you can find it. If not, find some Chaplin movies to watch in the meantime. I recommend “The Gold Rush,” “The Kid,” “Modern Times,” and (if you want to see him talking) “The Great Dictator.”