Looking for a capper to an online conversation touting the virtues of Wittgenstein and Sartre (FINE, it was really about pizza and how rad it is) I sought a simple Terminator GIF with which to end the conversation. None to be found! HOW CAN YOU LET ME DOWN LIKE THAT, INTERNET? I found something missing, and was duty-bound to fill the void. There you go folks, enjoy.
Spring, with its blandly pleasant weather and verdant life sprouting everywhere in a showy riot of color, is the perfect time of year to turn to the bleak novel where Man and Nature try to out-brood each other in prose form, Wuthering Heights.
The novel is a strange work- a tale of thwarted revenge and unhappiness stretching across generations told two steps removed from most characters involved. ‘Strange’ and ‘power’ are the two words used most frequently in early critical reviews; in contrast to the era’s florid novels of innocent women threatened, Wuthering Heights’ stark brutality, the ambiguous morals of its characters and their sad fates made for difficult reading. Of course, the same holds true for the modern age- adaptations of the novel tend to lop off the second half’s complex interweaving of families and relationships in favor of focusing on the first half’s tragic romance. That the novel’s been adapted so many times is bizarre in itself – why take the trouble to squish an unusual story into a more conventional format, not once but over and over again?
It could be the story’s raw power, attested to even by its major critics, but my theory as to why there’s over 12 film versions of Wuthering Heights, not to mention several adaptations to stage, is that the roles of Heathcliff and Cathy are actor catnip. Compare them to the juiciest stage roles for gents and ladies – Hamlet and Lady Macbeth. For the gents, you have free leave to be a melancholy jerk under the guise of SERIOUS SADNESS (dead dad on one side, thwarted love/dead lover on the other), and for the ladies you get to be absolutely un-ladylike (grab for power/raw nature), then play at being a lady but with lots of guilt and anguish, then SUPERNATURAL STUFF (specifically: ghooooooosts)! Scene-chewy goodness all around- plenty of spots to soliloquize about GRAND EMOTIONS and DEEPLY FELT PASSIONS and how those lesser losers just don’t understand ANY OF IT, GOD. Again, Wuthering Heights adaptations focus not on the fallout of actions upon the next generation, but on the doomed romance of Heathcliff and Cathy who doom their own romance instead of an outside force ripping them apart. Or maybe Culture ripped them apart; this isn’t English 102 and that’s not the point.
The point is much like Doctor Who or James Bond, Heathcliff is the rare character whose facets shine through the variety of actors taking on the role. A special award for Hat Trick goes to Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond, Heathcliff and not technically The Doctor but Lord President of all Time Lords so, close enough. The role’s also been played by Laurence Olivier, Ian McShane, Ralph Finnes and….Cliff Richard. Yes, the English Elvis, the Young One himself, wrote and starred in Heathcliff, a musical retelling of Wuthering Heights presented as ‘evidence’ to the audience for YOU to decide what kind of man Heathcliff really is.
Either I’m grossly misremembering video capability from 1997 (the year ‘Titanic’ and ‘The 5th Element’ came out) or the choice to have this staging look like a Lifetime movie from 1986 was intentional.
Did I say Lifetime movie? I mean Sunday morning public access worship hour.
The music is….let’s just put it this way, there’s a lot of synth keyboard. And not the good German kind, I mean the kind backing Christian-themed R&B from the early 90s. Cliff is certainly earnest as Heathcliff, but I kept getting distracted by his facial hair and sartorial choices.
(so many lapels…)
The same goes for the entire production – much like the Broadway staging of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, a lot of the story’s horror and power are lost through the very medium chosen to deliver it- bombastic stage musical. It’s paradoxical that music, which has the ability to reach emotion more readily and directly than other mediums, combined with live theater’s visceral presence and the depth of written word results in a maudlin, campy mess nearly every time. Could it be compromise made between the three mediums cancels out the strengths of each, leaving only weak middle ground to tread? Possibly the ‘language’ of staged musicals could be cheesy, with music demanding high energy to correlate with high emotion, making ridiculous what the theater/written word would get across with quiet strength. The parts could be inherently at odds. Then again I love Judas’ death scene in ‘J.C. Superstar’, so the synthesis can be done well.
This really looks like a fade-in from a Christian music video.
The entire production is available to watch on YouTube, but all you really need to see are the first 20 seconds of this:
I don’t believe the intent was to sound like Don Cornelius, but that is definitely the effect.
It’s taken me over 10 months to process seeing the James Spader/Robert Downey, Jr. vehicle ‘Tuff Turf’ (1985), and I’m still trying to fully comprehend what I saw. This is a genuinely strange film from surface to structure - as if an 80s movie algorithm put a script together and no human bothered to give it a pass before filming.
Let’s start with the script: the movie opens extraordinarily high-concept and just keeps piling it on: our protagonist is the young black sheep of a wealthy Connecticut family. Well, they were wealthy; as the movie opens the family’s living in the lower-middle class part of town with former-banker-dad now driving a taxi and mom mourning the family’s fall from yuppie grace. So within this family adjusting to a new income bracket, our protagonist rebels against his family’s former upper-class and current bourgeoisie values. Got that? MOVING ON.
Our young rebel, Steff Morgan, played by James Spader, is forced to start over at dreaded public school in their upper-lower-class town after being kicked out of all available private schools, much to his mother’s chagrin. Said school, populated by every 80s trope save skiing (I’m pretty sure someone was radboarding over their breakdancing friends in the parking lot) is ruled by the most shirtless gang this side of the Warriors.
Hazing involves renouncing buttons.
Unfortunately for Morgan, he’s already on the gang’s bad side/in love with their alpha girl after interrupting their nighttime mugging kicks on his bike (adding in the 80s trope of bike shenanigans). Inquiries concerning the becrimped young lady lead to an oddball friendship with Jimmy Parker (Robert Downey Jr. still in the ‘goofy punk sidekick’ phase of his career) and his bike getting destroyed by the gang leader’s car after school.
Jimmy’s in a punk band with Jim Carroll (checking ‘punk’ and ‘band’ off the list) and invites Morgan to the show. It’s the 80s and every town has a warehouse set aside for The Punk Club, just like the other side of town has its Posh Club for Toffs on the water.Who should Morgan run into but Frankie, the crimped love of his life (her hair is a marvel unto itself- that must take HOURS every day, and constant vigilance not to get it caught in every door). At first, Frankie’s resistant to Morgan’s confident insistence they date despite her already having a gang-leader boyfriend. Only through the magic of awkwardly choreographed line dancing, a la Pat Benatar videos and ‘Footloose’, does he begin to win her over. Their dancing is interrupted by fight-dancing on the part of said boyfriend’s heavies, leading to a ‘don’t mess with my girl’ car theft. Joke’s on the gang though, as they get pulled over and the boyfriend’s arrested for car theft! Hah! Now that he’s out of the way, nothing can stand between Morgan and his crimped woman. Well, nothing save CLASS ISSUES.
At first, everyone wins everyone over after taking a tour of ‘their world’ – Morgan takes Frankie and her trashy friends to crash the Rich Kids Regatta and irk the maitre’d, Frankie takes Morgan to some weird club featuring the jazz stylings of a lesser-Doobie Brothers, shows off dance skills likely reflecting her future employment opportunities, and everyone falls in love.
Popular Youth Music.
JUST THEN Frankie’s boyfriend gets out of jail (I’m assuming he wasn’t charged as a minor because he’s definitely over 23) and proceeds to chainwhip Spader in a fairly brutal scene (few PG13 movies feature the nearly-nude lead getting chain-whipped by a group of shirtless dudes. Hell, few porn movies do).
Pictured: not a porn movie.
But the physical brutality is nothing compared to the icy emotional rain showered down upon Frankie at the family dinner Morgan invites her to. Frankie isn’t upper-middle class (forget the fact Morgan’s mom isn’t either, at the moment), and she never will be. Leaving distraught, the message for Frankie to stop striving for upward mobility’s reinforced by her solidly criminal boyfriend, who decides to vengeance-whomp Morgan’s taxi-driving dad in a misplaced bout of rage. Do you see? DO YOU SEE HOW QUICKLY CONVOLUTED THIS GETS?!
Morgan’s dad turns out to be surprisingly good at self-defense for someone who presumably spent decades as a soft, white-collar office drone. He takes on all three punks at once and is kicking ass, so Frankie’s boyfriend pulls out a gun AND SHOOTS HIM (more on the ridiculous escalations of violence in this film in a moment). Morgan’s family blames The Lower-Class Girl, but Morgan still cares for her (shown via requisite slo-mo love scene. Ew). Frankie’s boyfriend’s on the run and has a taste for blood now. After Frankie scotches his second attempt at adding ‘murder’ to his rap sheet, he calls Morgan and demands he meet him for a final showdown at The Warehouse (checking….warehouse…off the list). The remainder of the movie is the final, extraordinarily bloody showdown between Frankie’s lower-class thug boyfriend and Spader’s yuppie rebel doing his best ‘Straw Dogs’ impersonation. Not surprisingly, Morgan comes out on top and everyone ends up in the Doobie Bros. strip club dancing like no one’s watching (at least that’s the best explanation we canhope for that sort of flailing), but NOT before the following happens:
- James Spader holding two guns while kicking a man down the stairs
- Pistol whippings for everyone!
- Robert Downey is revealed to be apparently Latino, shows up with large, convenient attack dogs (because he’s Latino), gets shot in leg
(told you so.)
- Frankie proves willing to shoot her boyfriend; gun, alas, is empty
- Soon, they’ll make a board with a nail so big it will DESTROY THE WORLD!
- Seriously though, don’t bring a board with nails in it to an axe fight.
Now. There is already A LOT to unpack here, but let’s focus first on this movie’s wild leaps in violence. Moving from ‘win the girl’ to ‘shooting your dad’ to ‘gang fight in the abandoned warehouse with attack dogs’ – This is Morgan’s THIRD DAY OF SCHOOL, WHAT THE HELL. Also, Robert Downey Jr. was shot in the leg, and the next day (I’m presuming it’s not the same day) he’s back dancing at the club! HE’S NOT EVEN LIMPING. The strange bubble of extreme brutality this movie exists in is hinted right from the start – the second scene of the movie features Morgan watching beetles crawl the walls of his family’s new slum before popping up (shirtless, of course), guns blazing, to shoot them into blue oblivion. And yet no one comments or calls the cops after hearing shots fired, nor does his family seem to mind/care their rebellious son has two guns of his own.
An aside: so much teen shirtlessness. It’s an epidemic in this town. Hot pants, no shirts, half-shirts, just vests, unitards. Is there no dress code at this school?
Pictured: A totally acceptable school outfit.
Maybe that’s the heart of this town’s violence issues, along with poor curriculum centered around woefully out of date fictional history films teaching Gunfighters had to save The Settlers. ”They brought a new code to the Old West…a code written in their blood and the blood of the men they faced!” So, getting back to the violence, the lesson Morgan learns first day at his new school from this film is ‘bad people have to die for things to get better’. And he meets his new best friend as the young man hands him a switchblade to deal with a ‘problem’ that hasn’t even happened yet. Yep, seems on par for this movie’s universe, and definitely helps explains the ending where everyone’s hanging at Club Wacky Band like Morgan DIDN’T JUST KILL FRANKIE’S BOYFRIEND IN A WAREHOUSE. But hey, the boyfriend was ‘bad’ and wouldn’t ever change; he didn’t even show signs of upward class mobility and so he had to die. It also didn’t help the guy he went up against, Morgan, also overreacts with toughness no matter the situation, leading to the aforementioned deadly nailboard/axe face-off.
James Spader. James Spader, the very concept of Preppie so courses through your veins, they had to make it part of your character’s background even if it went against all logic. I’m not sure I could’ve even believed him coming from a working class family. It’s no coincidence one of his most memorable roles is jaded preppie Steff in ’16 Candles’ – he is that character, wallowing in the horror of realization money can only buy things he’s already bored with. Given the intensity of his performance towards the end of this movie, stealthily kicking ass and Gymkata-ing the bad guys, his blood-smeared, malevolent smile brandishing that axe (again with the escalation in this film), oh, they should’ve used him in a horror movie. They should have cast him in an 80s version of ‘American Psycho’. I suppose it would have been too soon, too on-the-nose. Still, he technically killed Robert Downey in Easton Ellis’s ‘Less Than Zero’; close enough.
He also killed my personal sense of dignity when in ‘Tuff Turf’ he sits down to sing his lady a ballad (checking emotions through song/dance off the list). I must admit, I didn’t actually watch this. Couldn’t actually watch this. You try watching a man who excels at projecting detached, smug superiority project raw, earnest endearment. It just doesn’t work, and I got the sense while watching even he didn’t buy it. Still, he plays along gamely, and given his solid portrayal of an overly-enthusiastic Egyptologist in ‘Stargate’ 9 years later, the fault seems to be with the singing, not the acting.
Given Morgan and his family were bland yuppies before all this, where the hell did he and his dad learn their superfighting skills? I’d like to see the prequel where Morgan’s older brother (beloved preppie golden boy of the family) was sacrificed to mom’s wish for a lawyer in the family; while mother and son have a disturbingly close relationship in the background, father and Morgan band together to take on their town’s bad guys, one fistfight at a time. Maybe that’s why dad lost his job and seems so mildly concerned by it in ‘Tuff Turf’; his family was run out of town by some no-good fat-cat sheriff and the rich jerks under his protection in the prequel. That movie ends on more of a ‘Chinatown’ feel, then we pick up with ‘Tuff Turf’. Which somehow must belong to the same space as ‘Breakin’ Two: Electic Boogaloo’, due to sheer quantity of half-shirts. Wait…The principal does warn Morgan away from ‘holding rock concerts on the roof’ when he gets called into the office…’Breakin’ 2′ came out a mere year before…the rich jerks from ‘Breakin’ 2′ could be the same rich jerks who screwed over Morgan’s dad’s business in the prequel! WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE, PEOPLE. I’d like to see a follow-up movie as well, where Morgan and Robert Downey, Jr. go off to college, and it’s a direct cross between wacky screwball college romp and Falling Down. Those scum are gonna get a higher education….in pain. Something like that. We’ll workshop it.
Sites like Pinterest and Polyvore mostly bore me because pretty things bore me. Scary things? Gory things? Things so gloriously beauteous they’re painful to behold? Great! Sign me up. But ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’ are often synonyms for ‘safe’ and ‘inoffensive’, and after scrolling through pages of babies or puppies or cupcakes trying to find something of interest, everything blurs into a dull pastel smear and I just can’t pay attention. Polyvore’s even duller because the focus is fashion, wearable objects, and mostly ones from established designers. They’ve tricked the consumer into doing the heavy lifting of advertising, for nothing more than the possibility of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ that just further advertise. I’m sure it’s lots of fun rearranging outfits; it’s the modern paper doll, but the only thing more boring than puppies is fashion, unless you’re reaching for Leigh Bowery levels of wearable art.
AND SO IT IS! A very small segment of Polyvore does indeed seem less interested in Kate Spade bags and cool points and far more interested in messing with the very concept of fashion as passive consumer purchase. Rebecca Jane Stokes’ ‘Get This Look’ series for The Hairpin is the ne plus ultra, with concepts outside the realm of ‘traditional’ inspiration which still lend themselves to some amazing outfits (the Hamburglar and Swans are two favorites).
Then there’s turning away from fashion as constant reinvention of self and embracing it as embodiment of beloved personality. Sort of similar to how fans of anime draw any/every character/historical figure/inanimate object into anime style, but less irritating. And how could you stay mad at these?
I recently discovered the wonderful site Cinema Treasures. Celebrating not films but the places showing them, Cinema Treasures digs, documents and shares all the information they can find about classic movie theaters across America.
Plugging my zip code into their search feature, I was surprised to find this gem right near my subway stop:
Unfortunately this theater is past tense – long since demolished, here’s what currently occupies the space:
An empty lot! A fenced-in, weed-choked, garbage-filled empty lot. While any hint of green space in the neighborhood is appreciated, it’s depressing this wonderful building was razed with nothing replacing it in the 10+ years since its destruction. At best one hopes it became such a fire hazard it had to be torn down with no plans for the space, instead of imagining some developer sitting on this plot greedily anticipating the day the neighborhood perks up to the point they can build more glass fishbowls to shove upper-class Manhattan expats into (see: Williamsburg).
But there is yet hope! To my utter surprise and delight, all five of the original Lowe’s ‘Wonder Theaters‘ still stand! The Wonder Theaters were flagship Lowe’s outposts built outside main Manhattan, with the specific idea of bringing the glamour and luxury of city moviegoing to the outer boros.
Bronx’s Paradise theater still shows movies and hosts concerts and other arts-related events, as does Jersey City’s Lowe’s Theater. The Jersey Lowe’s can even be rented out for weddings (one of the rental perks being you and your betrothed’s names on the marquee. Cute).
I’ve posted random stuff online for several years and am happy to provide a pleasant visual forum for visitors to oggle. I hope this site offers tidbits of interest to the curious reader, and useful information for the crafty.
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