White women need to deal with the fact that most of you voted for Trump. It’s the not the job of black women or any marginalised and oppressed person to take responsibility for the actions of their oppressor or to educate their oppressor.
I think it’s so funny how society is quick to brand those problematic lily white women (Taylor swift, Lena Dunham, Amy schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, etc) as feminist examples, but Beyoncé who has been singing feminist songs since destiny child and has always stood up for women had to write Feminist in bold on a mainstream scene but still people questioned whether or not she was a feminist
5/3/17: FIRE WALK WITH ME vs PHENOMENA - The Comparative Analysis No One Asked For!
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) and PHENOMENA (1985) might not occur to most people as a pair, but they have two obvious things in common: They are products of two of the world’s best loved genre filmmakers, and they were thought to represent the nadir of each director’s career at the time of release. Incidentally, they are also both predicated on a sort of Alice through the looking glass format, and as such, they may have more to offer as a duet than a cursory consideration would suggest.
At the time of its release, after David Lynch’s groundbreaking television series was cancelled, the former suffered a lot from the preciousness with which audiences regarded Twin Peaks. A show fan (as opposed to a Lynch fan) might accept cutesy kookiness but not psychoanalytic abstraction; they might welcome a few good scares, but not being subject to constant terror and misery; and importantly, they might enjoy the idea of a cheerleader with a dark side, but sicken when the facts of Laura Palmer’s life are laid bare unromantically in all their R-rated glory.Topping all that off with the absence of most of the show’s beloved characters and/or actor (many of who expressed bitterness over Lynch more or less abandoning the program in its oft-maligned second season), it is unsurprising that the film met with boos, walkouts and scathing reviews upon release.
After a fashion, FIRE WALK WITH ME enjoyed a favorable reappraisal by its public, but no such forgiveness would come for Dario Argento’s PHENOMENA. This grisly fairy tale in which Jennifer Connelly uses her psychic connection with insects, and the aid of Donald Pleasance’s wayward helper monkey, to solve a series of murders, was understandably considered by many to be the beginning of the end of Argento’s already outrageous career. Up to that point, fans delighted in the logistical acrobatics of manic detective stories like PROFONDO ROSSO, and happily accepted the relatively anemic narrative of a fever dream like SUSPIRIA in light of its astonishing aesthetic powers. (Wiser sorts might even call this lack of “sense” a virtue) However, even these adventurous viewers had a hard time with PHENOMENA’s delirious dialog, its hysterical score that blends opera with heavy metal and surf rock, and its entirely preposterous premise. I have yet to come across a piece of critical writing that values this film as more than a collection of extreme examples of Argento’s defining characteristics as an artist. With that said, I have preemptively congratulated myself for attempting to say something about it as a story.
Both FWWM and PHENEMONA tell a little girl lost tale, in which the girls are specifically lost in a world of intimate violence and betrayal, with supernatural overtones. The mountain town of Twin Peaks, where prom queen Laura Palmer will live and die, is bathed in a searing white light by day as if to parody the pretended purity and simplicity of its people. A similarly blinding daylight bleaches the eerie environs of the Swiss Alps where a movie star has sent his beautiful daughter, Jennifer Corvino, to a fancy boarding school. By night, a cursed darkness seeps out of the pines surrounding both settings, laying cover for libidinous young men and bloodthirsty murderers. Our schoolgirl heroines have to battle both the mundane evils of ignorant adults and predatory peers, and real monsters disguised as loving fathers, upstanding school teachers, and even innocent children.
Although FIRE WALK WITH ME is a prequel to Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer is already in deep trouble at the beginning of the movie. Because she’s the most popular girl in the world, no one in a position to help thinks to wonder about her erratic behavior, nocturnal flights from her home, and often transparent misery. Laura’s fate is therefore determined by the remaining men in her life–her boyfriend Bobby, who is more a rabid dog than a person; her secret boyfriend James, who doesn’t have the humility to imagine that anything could be more powerful or important than his shallow teenage love for Laura; and Jacques, the owner of a bar on the wild Canadian border, who feeds Laura’s cocaine addiction and her compulsion to endanger and degrade herself. As in real life, Laura’s relationships are patterned after her relationship with her father, who in this case is essentially the devil.
Jennifer Corvino is also haunted by the specter of her father, which has a huge impact on her life, even though he never materializes. When she arrives at the elite Richard Wagner Academy for Girls, she is burdened with the stigma of having a rich, famous, and desirable daddy. Her social life basically has two facets, which her new roommate Sophie demonstrates efficiently: Jennifer is either subject to other people’s sexual obsession with her father, or subject to their sadism and jealousy. When Jennifer reveals that she knows movie star Paul Corvino, Sophie mindlessly assails her with a lustful rant about his body, and an invasive question about whether she has fucked him yet. Jennifer patiently explains that Paul Corvino is her father, but it’s hard to blame Sophie for her reaction, since Jennifer has brought armloads of pinups of her dad to decorate their dorm. The oedipal vibe of this scene (and the movie in general) is underlined by a weird comic touch in which Jennifer, hungry from her long journey, eats a jar of baby food left behind by Sophie’s family. Throughout the film, Jennifer will pine for the father who has abandoned her for a foreign film shoot, and have to fight alone against even less caring adults.
Of course, where Jennifer’s character is colored by this subtle form of romance with her father, Laura’s life is entirely ruined by the very real affair that her father carries on with her during the twilight fugue states shared by both of them. Her awareness of this ongoing trauma bubbles up to her consciousness in the form of hallucinatory visions of a demonic older man called Bob, who has been raping her since childhood. Laura sees him lurking behind her bedroom furniture, blames him for pages torn out of her secret diary, and believes he that he intends to fully possess her and thereby incarnate himself as her. Laura has only one real friend in the world, who she can’t possible tell about Bob: Donna Hayward (played here by Moira Kelly rather than Lara Flynn Boyle, to pretty much universal dismay). Donna loves Laura with the kind of unconditional love that most often occurs when a person doesn’t really know anything about their loved one. Donna’s innocence is so comically total that Laura must shield her not only from the story of Bob, but from her crippling drug addiction and frightening forays into prostitution. Inevitably, Donna martyrs herself on the cross of their friendship, attempting to prove her devotion by borrowing some of Laura’s sluttier clothes, getting wasted and almost screwing a young tough in the middle of Jacque’s bar. The harrowing sequence concludes with Laura, who has been perfectly evil to Donna all night in an attempt to ward her off, giving vent to a shattering scream at the sight of her friend being molested. Still, she is unable to experience or express actual love, screeching at her best friend, “DON’T YOU EVER WEAR MY STUFF!”
Donna’s love for Laura is as deep as her maturity allows, as FIRE WALK WITH ME and Twin Peaks frequently touch on the way in which teenage relationships are, paradoxically, exactly as passionate as they are shallow. PHENOMENA takes this a step farther, describing the corrosive, sadistic social environment that tends to sprout up between girls. After Jennifer tells the heartbreaking story of her philandering mother walking out on the family on Christmas (which, apropos nothing, has a curious similarity to Phoebe Cates’ dead santa story from GREMLINS), Sophie says, as if she hadn’t heard a word, that she’s glad Jennifer has arrived because she gets so lonely at night. Throughout their entire conversation, in fact, Jennifer’s dialog and Sophie’s dialog never seem to quite match up, as if they were in two separate movies. This makes for an acute description of the way in which young women readily perform the drama of being best friends forever, while not really acknowledging each other as individuals, or even liking each other very much. Shortly hereafter, Sophie absconds with Jennifer’s black and gold Armani pullover (all of the apparel in this film is provided by Armani, which contributes excellently to the film’s slick, icy look) to rendezvous with her boyfriend along the treeline. First she brags about knowing the daughter of a celebrity and stealing her clothes, but when she realizes that her boyfriend is now interested in Jennifer, she changes her tune. “She wears her hair like mine,” Sophie boasts, as if she were the influencer, and then cattily divulges that Jennifer sleepwalks, and must be crazy. PHENOMENA being essentially a slasher movie, Sophie isn’t long for this world, but Jennifer responds to her gruesome murder with a spirit of vengeance for her supposed friend.
PHENOMENA also boasts the mother of all mean girl sequences, a psychotic update of CARRIE’s “plug it up” scene, in which Jennifer’s classmates have cottoned to the fact that she “thinks” she can speak to bugs. A fabulous swirling tracking shot gathers a growing gang of girls around Jennifer, as they taunt her with insect noises which transform into a chant: WE WORSHIP YOU! WE WORSHIP YOU! Naturally, Jennifer’s insect friends descend on the school, threatening to crash through the windows as she declares messianically, “I love you. I love you all.” Of course, the grownups at the academy are partially to blame for the atmosphere around Jennifer. This revelation about her powers came to light because, guided by the psychic voice of a firefly, Jennifer wandered into the night to retrieve from the trees one of Sophie’s gloves, which contains a helpful maggot. This is another one of the film’s great and powerful scenes: Jennifer, cherubic in a white nightgown and dwarfed by the cold luminous cube of her dorm, glides across the pitch-black lawn as if in slow motion–while, in stark contradiction to this dreamy image, the soundtrack blares with a massive, speedy metal anthem. It’s a fascinating aesthetic device that Argento will employ again later in the film, accompanying slow, quite action with crushing, thrashy music. In any case, when Jennifer naively surfaces the fact that a maggot told her about Sophie’s murder, the domineering headmistress (the astonishing-looking Dalila Di Lazzaro, who is no Alida Valli, but she gets the job done) calls the men in the white coats. Jennifer is subject to a number of humiliating experiments and tests to evaluate her mental health (“Do you take anything? Like, do you understand…DRUGS?”), on which she storms out. Where Laura Palmer is almost totally alone in the world due to her perceived perfection, Jennifer Corvino is isolated by constant scrutiny.
Laura has just one, tragically ineffectual source of aid–generically, forces from the Black Lodge. The backwards-speaking Man From Another World seems to try to warn her, and Agent Cooper, of her fate, but he speaks only in poetic code. Dale himself tries and fails to advise her through her dreams, and Laura also receives strange messages from one of her Meals On Wheels recipients. Mrs. Chalfont and her grandson, a mute junior magician who hides behind a disturbing pagan mask, try to intervene with Laura, but only manage to terrorize her further. A person’s ordinary sources of support are absent or utterly corrupt, including Laura’s mother (the always excellent Grace Zabriskie), a terminally nervous chainsmoker who exists in a state of fragile, attenuated silence, unable to confront what she seems to know is happening between her husband and her daughter. Although Sarah Palmer also receives visions from the Black Lodge, she retreats from them in terror and resigns herself to her circumstances. She even accepts, tremulously, an obviously drugged libation from her husband before bedtime, when the trouble begins.
The great power of FIRE WALK WITH ME, and also Twin Peaks, is that Laura’s father is not pure evil. Even if you were to start totally from scratch for the movie, you could never in a million years cast a more perfect individual than Ray Wise as Leland Palmer. Wise’s limitlessly expressive face, physical vitality, and unpredictable vacillation between warmth and violence lend the perfect depth to Leland, who simultaneously inspires pity and fear. He truly loves his daughter, frantically trying to console her when they are shockingly confronted by the One-Armed Man in traffic, and even appearing tearfully at her nightstand in a display of emotion that amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. He evinces a genuine desire to be close to his daughter, which is unfortunately inseparable from his desire to be with her as a man. Leland is much more than a good guy by day, and a bad guy when witlessly possessed by an evil spirit. Within David Lynch’s supernatural fable is a completely authentic story about mental illness and incest that strikes all the right psychological chords.
While Jennifer’s father never becomes more than an idea, she does attract a separate father figure in the course of mission to identify Sophie’s killer, who probably also murdered another schoolgirl in the recent past. Donald Pleasance plays a paraplegic forensic entomologist who happened to have been close friends with the original victim. Jennifer meets him after one of her somnambulistic excursions, during which she narrowly escapes being gang raped by some virile college men. She is surprised in the woods by a chimpanzee, who she trustingly follows to the safety of Dr. John McGregor’s eccentric home in the woods. McGregor, who apparently has a way with teenage girls, quickly determines that Jennifer has a special connection to insects–specifically, he notes that a certain beetle in his care is trying to get it on with her: “You’re arousing him, and he’s doing his best to arouse you.” While McGregor is meant to be charming, and never does anything explicitly inappropriate, his role in the story contributes to a feeling that Jennifer can never escape her freudian circumstances, whether she is being accused of having sex with her father, actually pining for her father, or being eroticized by the nearest father figure in her life.
Whatever it may lack in psychological realism compared with FWWM, PHENOMENA takes much stranger strides in examining the role of the mother in this sort of saga. Already we have been introduced to the idea of Jennifer’s deadbeat mom, and the angry, jealous-seeming headmistress who tries to have her committed, but there is a third figure in play who the audience may have counted out at the beginning of the movie. Dario Argento’s erstwhile creative and romantic partner Daria Nicolodi (from whom he separated the year of this film’s release–and whatever it means, Argento cast his daughter Fiore, from another partnership, as the first victim) plays Frau Bruckner, an employee at the school who seems pretty dismissible at first. She suddenly becomes relevant toward the last act when McGregor is murdered by the mysterious killer. Seemingly sympathetic, Bruckner invites Jennifer to spend the night at her home–but once they’re there, the older woman suddenly becomes strange and threatening. Noticing a profusion of shrouded mirrors in the house, Jennifer prompts her hostess to deliver a disturbing monologue about her “sick” son, who we find out is the product of a rape. Whatever is wrong with him, she considers him a burden and a constant torment. “These things can happen in a woman’s life,” Bruckner observes darkly. Indeed, even a normal pregnancy is something that happens to a woman, something she cannot share with her husband nor her children. The child is under no natural obligation to empathize with the trials of motherhood, and inevitably, the person that the child becomes is under no one’s control. This can be pretty bad news on the part of the mother, but from the child’s point of view, if you are primarily identified as something that has happened to your mother, then what can you possibly expect from her?
For Jennifer, this type of logic leads her in an unfortunate direction. Things escalate quickly with the obviously bad-news Bruckner, leading to a chase that includes one of the gnarliest images ever to grace a screen: Jennifer, clad in her white-on-white uniform, plunges into the basement dungeon, which is occupied mainly by a pit that is brimming with a stew composed of putrifying human remains. Jennifer struggles to tread water in this rancid soup as Bruckner taunts her; nearby, an interloping detective is chained to a wall, and uses Jennifer’s diversion to break his own thumb and slip out of his manacles, attacking Bruckner with the chain. Jennifer flees the scene, and finds herself in the room of Bruckner’s little boy. Foolishly, she identifies with him, perhaps from one abandoned and stigmatized child to another, and tells him that he is finally free of his evil mother. When she removes the shroud from a mirror, the child flies into a rage, revealing himself to be indescribably deformed and equally violent. He chases Jennifer out to a lake and onto a motorboat, in a scene curiously reminiscent of the end of FRIDAY THE 13TH. She summons a swarm of insects that skeletonize the boy, and makes her way to shore, only to be confronted by Bruckner. The madwoman confesses to murdering McGregor and others in order to hide her son’s taste for schoolgirl blood, and nearly decapitates Jennifer with a piece of sheet metal–before she is attacked by Inga, McGregor’s helper monkey. This is preceded by the most ludicrous segment of the entire film. It is comparatively acceptable when Detective Jennifer went out into the countryside with a stylized glass box containing a corpse-sniffing fly, but it is truly hard to excuse when vengeful Inga goes on the trail of her master’s killer, finding a discarded razor in a garbage can, and presumably, tracing it back to Bruckner. Here at the end of this wild ride, Jennifer watches Inga slash Bruckner to pieces. As Wikipedia eloquently puts it, “With the ordeal over, Jennifer and the chimp embrace.”
Even detractors of PHENOMENA will usually admit that its high camp is extremely entertaining. FIRE WALK WITH ME has hardly a shred of humor, unlike the frequently kitschy and nostalgic Twin Peaks, making it a constant stream of wrenching terror and sadness. Laura’s appalling fate is sealed by a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: She is being raped by her father, which produces in her a suicidal self-loathing, which leads to her become a whore, and then when her father discovers this activity, he chooses to murder her. Although FWWM is much easier to identify as a work of art, its finale has problems that are not dissimilar to PHENOMENA, and I personally find it less easy to like. Half-possessed by Bob, Leland drags Laura and another young sex worker off to a disused train car. There, he savagely brutalizes both women in an aria of sadism that forms the peak of the film’s grueling progression. The sequence is punctuated by hysterical confessions from Leland and Bob about their collaborative, lifelong victimization of Leland’s child. It is hard to watch, and even harder to look away. This is all well and good, but then, as if Lynch had painted himself into a corner, something utterly untrue to the world of the film takes place. Referencing a corny religious painting in Laura’s bedroom, an actual angel appears to the dying girl. As her soul leaves her body and is relegated to the Black Lodge for eternity, this tacky, cliched angel figure appears to give Laura some solace. If it is meant to be a hallucination, this is a lousy place for it, since Twin Peaks literally features ethereal figures all the time. If it is meant to be taken literally, and I believe it is, an angel is a lousy choice, since the Black Lodge is mainly dominated by (pseudo-) Native American ideology. There is a single reference to a guardian angel in an especially terrible piece of the second season, but I would refuse to accept that as a reasonable excuse for this. Just to pour some salt in the wound, the angel is accompanied by opera music, making a jarring aesthetic departure from the entire rest of the film and the show, which is characterized as much by Angelo Badalamenti’s jazz score as anything else. Lynch could at least have cast Julee Cruise as the angel to help keep us in the mood, but no such luck. This interruption makes it hard to stay focused on the film’s concluding image of Laura weeping in terror and relief, under Dale Cooper’s benevolent gaze, in the Black Lodge.
By this late hour, the reader may be wondering how I came to the conclusion that FIRE WALK WITH ME and PHENOMENA should be paired. The truth is simply that I watched them together one night, with no particular intention, and was totally startled by the way that they mirror and compliment one another. The excoriating sunlight, the ominous winds, the lumber, the simple savagery of youth, the special brutality of women, the unavoidable victimizing effect of parenthood on both parties, it was all there. PHENOMENA may present a more abstract account, compared with FWWM’s confrontational emotional realism, but a special synergy exists between the two films, in their address of their shared subject matter. Each presents an individual lens on the material, but together, they form a kind of piercing microscope that reveals profound truths about lost girl fables. I strongly recommend this double bill for all serious students of these tales.
Before I cut myself off, I would just like to make one further remark about FIRE WALK WITH ME. It is a serious shame that people remember Laura Palmer better than they remember the actress Sheryl Lee. Even I sometimes have a hard time remembering her name, and I do find that fans who can easily name Lara Flynn Boyle and Sherilyn Fenn have a hard time calling Laura Palmer anything other than Laura Palmer. I’m not entirely sure what accounts for this, other than the possibility that the Laura Palmer character is so archetypally exciting to people that she’s more important as a symbol, than as a body of work executed by a skilled performer. It’s completely unfair to Sheryl Lee, who gives us a performance that I wouldn’t even want to live through myself. The woman has to cry throughout the entire film, which seems exhausting to say the least, but it’s not a simple matter of emoting; she makes it so raw that it’s terrifying to watch. Lee takes a simple line like “Who was that man? Do you know him?”, and delivers it with the blistering urgency of a woman mounting the gallows. There is a lot to love about the formal composition of FWWM, but the truth is that without this actress’s torturous commitment to making Laura Palmer psychologically correct, the whole structure might come crashing down. Everyone whose life has been touched by Twin Peaks, even those of us who relate to the more iconic Donna and Audrey, owe Sheryl Lee more thanks than we have given her.
We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House. It took elected leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican National Committee (not to mention its donors and activists) to wave off Trump’s racist attacks on a federal judge, blatant lies about everything from 9/11 to his own involvement in birtherism, replete evidence of disloyalty to America (i.e. Trump’s “Russia first” policies), misogyny, Islamophobia, ongoing potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause (along with a mass of conflicts of interests), firing of an FBI director, and now, evidence that the campaign was willing to enlist a foreign power to defeat Clinton in the presidential election.