I still haven’t gotten used to writing “2023” — it feels like a misspelling. Perhaps in part because it’s an odd number. It’s not prime, and it’s kind of cute that it’s the product 7×17×17=2023. Lucky triple sevens! And a full house, sevens over aces. (Numerology would be another of those things that are fun but which I don’t believe.)
My 2022 plan for Serious Spring Cleaning didn’t end up nearly aggressive as planned. There’s still too much junk. And still too many (piles of) notes and notebooks.
So: Serious Spring Cleaning, take two, and another edition of Friday Notes.
I’m generally not one for traditions or custom. I tend to see these as the enemies of thought and imagination. (Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”) I have always craved the new, the roads I haven’t yet traveled. Trying a new restaurant is more fun than revisiting an old haunt.
That said, tradition and custom can act as an anchor, a reference point, or just a comfort. I do have a few customary comforts. For instance, my bottle of champagne on the Solstices (one for sorrow, one for joy). Also, for New Year’s and my blog anniversary.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s watching as many versions of A Christmas Carol as I can.
This weekend I had the immense pleasure of watching all three extant John Wick movies. Part of the pleasure was watching them over the course of only two evenings. While the first film, in multiple ways, stands alone, the latter two (and presumably chapter four coming out next year) tell a single story.
If you like gun fu action thrillers and somehow haven’t seen these, you’ve missed something rather special. The attention to detail, the tactical reality of the fight scenes, and a whole lot more, place these movies, especially the first, among the best of their kind.
They’re a wonderful contrast to what movies seem to have turned into.
Over the last nine posts I’ve been pondering the topic of Who Can Play Who when it comes to adaptations of existing works. To wrap things up, and because ten is a magic number to us humans, it seems reasonable to try to boil it all down to something coherent. If that’s even possible.
I find myself conflicted sometimes between what I’ll call a stage play sensibility that allows huge latitude in casting actors versus my sensibilities about live-action adaptations of well-established existing properties.
I think that changes the equation.
Speaking of women-centric movies and TV shows, recently I watched Hulu’s Prey (2022), the latest entry in the Predator franchise. Not to be confused with the Aliens vs. Predators mini franchise, the crossover with the Aliens franchise.
The evening was a double feature. First, I watched the second entry in the AvP series, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). I can’t say I’m a huge fan of these movies, but I’ve generally enjoyed them. Prey got lots of praise, and I’ve long wanted to see The AvP sequel (although I wasn’t expecting much from it).
As it turned out, AvP: Requiem won the night. Prey has a lot going for it but has too much Mulan and Dances with Wolves for my taste. I found it distracting and detracting.
Women, in most societies, have long suffered as second-class citizens. In the beginning it was due to biology, but modern cultures generally erase those differences. Paradoxically, women have historically also held a revered position (“Women and children first!”). Art, literature, and social practice, all elevate them above men, albeit selectively.
Ironically, elevation is also a problem. In at least two ways. Putting anyone on a pedestal is never a good idea. That’s a topic for another time. There is also the zero-sum version of elevation: glorifying one group while disparaging, even attacking, another. That also is never a good idea.
As it applies to movie and TV roles, it’s the topic I want to discuss here.
Recently I’ve been thinking (and posting) about acting roles in adaptations of existing works, especially of comics and animations. A few months ago, I ventured down the YouTube rabbit hole of fan media commentary channels where the topic is a common one. Fans naturally have strong opinions about their favorite characters.
I’ve long said sexual differences make social gender issues more challenging than social race issues (because race is a social construct). The issue of gender swapping is likewise more challenging than that of race swapping.
Here be dragons of objectification, exploitation, and the Male Gaze.
I seem to have a penchant for trilogy posts. It wasn’t intentional this time, but I ended up writing a trilogy of posts [1, 2, 3] about the Netflix adaptation of The Sandman (1989-1996), the much-loved graphic novel authored by Neil Gaiman (and drawn by various artists).
The Netflix adaptation offers some good examples of actor swapping, which has been my theme lately. Ultimately, I think the real problem is realistic live-action adaptations of singularly and visually well-defined drawn or animated characters. For instance: Superman, Homer Simpson, and Mickey Mouse.
When real people portray them, race and gender come into play.
Last time I asked, when it comes to actors playing roles, Who Can Play Who? To what degree do characters, particularly fictional ones, have fixed race or gender? How much latitude exists in adaptations of existing stories? Is there an acceptable spectrum from faithful retelling to jazz riff to based on to inspired by and finally to all but unrecognizable? If not, why not?
Last time I focused on race. This time I’ll focus on the gender side of the equation. Sexual differences and sexual attraction add a large and complex additional dimension. The question expands beyond matters of representation and actor swapping.
For instance, there is the additional notion of the Strong Female Character (SFC).
I was born in the Bronx and became a young man in Los Angeles, so I lived in racially mixed neighborhoods during my formative years. I’m aghast at the pain we cause over what are essentially paint jobs and accessories. It’s a vast and vital topic — a needed ongoing conversation. For now, suffice that “race” should never be the answer to any important question.
Such as the question of who can — as in “is allowed to” — have what acting roles in movies and TV shows. Specifically, the issue of “race swapping” in previously established roles. Complicating the matter is an asymmetry; swapping X for Y isn’t the same as swapping Y for X.
There is also the question of “gender swapping” and the “strong female character” in modern writing. We’ve forgotten Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.