Beau’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer exit interview

You may have heard that Beau recently completed the Herculean task of watching every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with me. It was kind of an agreed-upon prerequisite for living with me. I’m very proud of him for not only sticking it out, but also finding much to love about the show.

Beau and I sat down last night to talk Buffy, just one night after he watched “Chosen,” the show’s final episode, in our bedroom. Here’s what he remembers about Buffy:

Ten Favorite Episodes (in no order)
“Once More, with Feeling” (Season 6)
“Hush” (Season 4)
“Two to Go” (Season 6)
“Doppelgangland” (Season 3)
“Killed by Death” (Season 2)
“Help” (Season 7)
“Halloween” (Season 2)
“Witch” (Season 1)
“Life Serial” (Season 6)
“Storyteller” (Season 7)

Favorite Season Overall
Season 7

Favorite Character
Anya, the 1100-year old ex-vengeance demon

Least Favorite Character
Faith

Favorite Big Bad
Glorificus the Hell God

Favorite Little Bad
The Gentlemen from Hush

Best Buffy Hair
Season 7

Worst Buffy Hair
The bob in Season 6

Character He Most Aspires to Emulate
Willow

Character He Would Make Out With the Longest
Angel

Saddest Moment
When Xander leaves Anya at the altar in “Hells Bells”

Marry, Boff, Kill: Angel, Riley, Spike
Marry: Angel, Boff: Riley, Kill: Spike

Favorite song from “Once More, With Feeling”
“I’m Under Your Spell”

Will he read the season 8 comic books?
He’s thinking about it, even though it’s supergeeky.

Other Comments
Beau says he really started liking the show once they went to college in season 4, and that it kept getting better after that.

He also says, “I will be watching the whole series again.”

And he also says, “And I love you, Angel.”

“And Tara. And Anya.”

Another reason I love Mary Gaitskill

She was twenty-five. I was thirty-three. She was already editor in chief of a venerable avant-garde press, a veritable circus of caged monsters and their stylish keepers. She spoke with a combination of real confidence and its flimsy counterfeit. Monsterless, I barely knew how to speak at all, and what I could say was timid and unctuous. It didn’t matter. She wore a heavy silver necklace over her white T-shirt, under which her small breasts gave off dark, glandular warmth. Behind the bar, a mountain of green, blue, and gold bottles glimmered before a murky mirror lake. On the television above the bar, a rock star in an elaborate video drew a door in the air with a piece of chalk, smiled, and stepped through it. Jukebox music rose up, making a forest of sound, through which young girls traveled on their way to the bathroom. Above us, the fog traveled, too, laughing and quick. The bathroom door creaked loud and long; slim thighs went past, along with a swinging little wrist loaded with shining jewelry. We were hungry for this, all of this, and for each of us, “this” took form in the other. We ate each other with our eyes and, completely apart from our inconsequential words, our voices said, How delicious. We impulsively kissed, and separated quickly, laughing like people who had accidentally brushed against each other on the sidewalk. Then with a nervous toss of her head, she glided in close again. Soft heat came off her face, and then there was the dark, sucking heat of her mouth. She said, “I’d take you to dinner, but my girlfriend is expecting me.”

Mary Gaitskill, “Today I’m Yours,” Don’t Cry

Bonus points if you can name the video referenced above.

Glee is Joy

Last night’s “preview” episode of the fall TV series Glee was awesome.

It was fun, was well-written, had some compelling characters, and was–yes–a little moving.

It’s created by Ryan Murphy, who also brought us Nip/Tuck and Popular. Glee builds on a lot of the genius that was Popular, is savvy about high school power dynamics, both faculty and student.

If you never saw Popular, it was the show that developed Sara Rue, Tammy Lynn Michaels, Christopher Gorham, Leslie Bibb, and Wentworth Miller. It took place in a smallish high school where the rift between the haves and have-nots seemed irreperable until…the most popular girl’s dad marries the most “non-conformist” girl’s mom and the two mortal enemies are forced to share a house, a life, and worst of all–a bathroom.

Who didn’t love Tammy Lynn Michaels’s dastardly evil Glamazon cheerleader Nicole Julian, whose persecution of the less fortunate was as inspired as it was horrifying? Or Texan pageant queen Mary Cherry, whose slow murder of the English idiom was rivaled only by her enormous bee-stung lips and hypnotic eyes? And Lily Esposito (recently appeared in a “your butt called me” Blackberry commercial), whose impassioned activism for liberal causes encouraged her to briefly flirt with the liberal cause of lesbianism?

Popular was brilliant for its fearlessness and its willingness to upset the entire reality of its universe again and again. It was sincere and campy above all else. The mighty fell over and over, the meek inherited the earth (and had it taken from them a few episodes later). Bridges were burned and tentatively reconstructed, then burned again. It never failed to be enjoyable.

I have these same high hopes for Glee when it returns full-time in the fall.

They’re Heeeee-re

America’s Next Top Model is back and already an outrage! Tonight’s elimination was so WRONG and obviously motivated by keeping a bitchy, conflict-inspiring contestant in the house while sending home the sweet-natured, attractive, better performing model.

So, aside from that, who am I loving?


Allison, freaky-eyed alien girl, who is awkward and strange, but also totally herself, and essentially very sweet.


Aminat, who is taller than me in heels and, without being cruel, tells it how it is.


London: “She loves Jesus, and modeling too.” She’s like a Tom Petty song! But she is also just cool and confident and fun-loving and wild–you know, in a Christian way.


Fo, whose freckles and fresh personality give her inner and outer beauty.


Jessica, of the flawless skin and flawless features.


Kortnie, who dated Dale Earnhardt junior and lived to tell about it! And who is barely plus-sized and plus-fabulous.

Sad to see the first elimination. I hope the next time–SHE’S on the chopping block. I usually don’t root against my hometown girls. Unless they’re, you know, evil

Speed Racer Rules!

Over the weekend I made it a priority to get to a movie theatre, away from the heat, to see Speed Racer.

I’ll be honest. I was initially skeptical about this cartoon remake, thinking it was going to end up totally LAME despite the best efforts of a great cast and a pair of visionary directors. But even the previews couldn’t have prepared me for the fun, unique, visually overwhelming ride that is Speed Racer.

First, it’s full of beefcake, which is never a bad sign. Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox, and the totally foxy Scott Porter (as the doomed Rex Racer) are all good to look at. Watching a shirtless Matthew Fox kick a little ninja ass was, I admit, worth the price of admission. Rounding out the beefcake are Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as Mr. and Mrs. Racer and Christina Ricci as Trixie, Speed’s spunky and supportive gal pal.

But aside from the obvious, the film is also just amazing. The Wachowski Brothers, who innovated film in the last decade with the stop-motion camera angle adjustment that characterized the Matrix franchise, do themselves one better here, rendering a live action/computer animation environment that is both seamless and self-referential. As a child, Speed sits in his desk chair imagining himself in a child-drawn world of race cars and lane changes, the action is absolutely absorbing, drawing the viewer into the invented, imaginary world without destroying the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, this element (and the hyperstylized “real world” Speed Racer lives in) are both nods to the original Japanese cartoon’s brand of animation. The Wachowski brothers layer in references to anime in humorous ways that draw our attention to the rest of the film—ultimately, isn’t this whole film a live-action version of anime? Or witness Trixie’s exasperated disbelief: “Oh my God, was that a ninja?” All of these elements actually increase audience participation in the invented world rather than distancing us from it. Even though the characters experience a degree of disbelief, we never do.

The production design on this film is out of control, almost obsessive-compulsive in the degree of detail and attention to which the sets, costumes, and props all come together to create a world that is simultaneously beautiful, familiar, strange, and implausible. Mid-century modern design nestles comfortably alongside invented technologies and—yes—even a domesticated monkey, who earns his keep in the film without resorting to lame explanatory tactics (in fact, we never do learn why there’s a primate in the house…). The imagined landscapes, with their rich tones and vibrant colors are virtually unforgettable. But more than anything, this is a film about lighting. Every scene is meticulously lit, shadowing faces or spraying reflected lights across Speed’s helmet. Even the obscene amount of green screened shots are lit in believable ways, rivaling Ugly Betty for the best renderings of physical space in contemporary filmmaking.

It’s a film that’s more than worth seeing; it’s a revolution. Like the best works of art in our culture, Speed Racer draws from discrete and disparate traditions and pulls them all together into a seamless stream of consciousness that has a strong heart and a quick, unstoppable pulse.

The Handmaid’s Tale

From time to time, my mind returns to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Have you ever read it? I can’t even remember why I first did; it might have been on Maria’s recommendation when we were both in college. I had never read more than a single poem of Atwood’s at that time, so this was really my first encounter with her work.

Although the plot of the book is fascinating (and: right now: timely, prescient), what is actually hypnotic about it is the lyric way in which in the events of the narrative unfold. From the perspective of a woman whose name becomes “Offred,” the hyper-religious military state of America is contrasted with fleeting memories of the time before, of an escape attempt gone wrong.

The chorus in the book: Nolite te bastardes carborundum. As I wrote to Peter on his Latin phrase post: it means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This, some now forgotten woman scrawled in a dark corner of Offred’s room/cell.

The book became a movie, with the quality of a made-for-tv movie, although it does boast Adrian Quinn (hot), Faye Dunaway (cool), and Natasha Richardson (hot by lineage). The movie is not even close to capturing the book. It’s hard for me to see cinema fail, or to think perhaps I could have done this better.

If you haven’t read it, now is the time to read it.

From the Vault: Ten Surprisingly Classic Albums

Today’s list is something I mentioned earlier—a brief consideration of my extensive music collection. Today I’m choosing ten albums, released in the 90s or earlier, that have remained compelling pieces of work for me. Some might not be that shocking and some you’ve maybe never heard before, but all deserve a good listen.


1. Abra Moore, Strangest Places.
I first learned of Abra through an ad for Visa. She was one of those “I lived in a van” singers in the 90s, and she had a brief moment with this interesting rock/country/folk album. The songs have held up because the writing, particularly the lyrics, is so interesting.


2. Belly, King.
A swan song for Tanya Donnelly’s short-lived band, King is a 90s-alterna-rock curiosity. Departing from the “confessional” tone of their first album, King snarls and bops with ferocious abandon and quiet restraint.


3. Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming.
I still think the first album is the best, but it took several years to grow on me. I bought it, sold it, and then bought it again a few years later. “Satellite” in particular is an enduring song, and “Ants Marching” is one of my favorites by him.


4. Duncan Sheik, Duncan Sheik.
How unfortunate that Duncan fell into a tweener marketing ploy with his first single, which is, yes, catchy—but good, and this album is lightyears beyond what “Barely Breathing” might make you think. Tender, unrestricted, and emotionally honest, his first collection is truly his most cohesive.


5. Fiona Apple, Tidal.
Why do I keep picking first albums? People gave Fiona a bad rap because she had some things to say and she was erroneously lumped into the Tori Amos bin. This first album is lush, disarming, with a youthful misstep or two—but still a classy debut by a promising and innovative artist.


6. Hole, Live Through This.
The first time I heard this band, it was a revelation for me. Courtney Love, while crazy, wrote a brilliant and provocative collection that borrows both from her history with the girl-punk band Babes in Toyland and brings in elements of pop influenced, no doubt, by her connection to Nirvana. “Violet” is a great example of this contradiction, but the album soars straight up from this first track to the last.


7. Luscious Jackson, Electric Honey.
Another last album by a great band, EH found these talented women finally gelling into some great catchy pop tunes with substance. An extension of their hit “Naked Eye,” the album is wrought with unforgettable melodies and guitar hooks.


8. No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom.
A nearly perfect album, No Doubt’s second major effort is, to me, one of the greatest examples of how personal torment can make great art. The collision of Gwen’s confessional lyrics with ska rhythms and pop hooks is an amazing conflict.


9. Radiohead, The Bends.
Although I love OK Computer (and nothing since) by this band, I think The Bends is a more even collection of songs, all of them tying back to the theme of how technology impacts our lives and makes us different human. Songs like “Just” echo their first hit, “Creep,” but amazing anthems like “Street Spirit [Fade Out]” really make this an album to hear again and again.


10. Tori Amos, Under the Pink.
I might be the only gay man in America who thinks this is a great album, but I prefer it to her other work. The striking irony of “God,” the hushed secrets of “Past the Mission,” the sprawling lush anthem of “Yes, Anastasia” all work for me. And other, smaller songs—”The Waitress” and “Cornflake Girl”—still hold up for me. I never was a cornflake girl. I thought it was a good solution hanging with the raisin girls.

Honorable Mentions: Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes; Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright.