Archive for May, 2010

So…seems a lot of people read my blog concerning “Sex and the City 2.” Delightful. Many think I’m very, very wrong and believe I should watch before I condemn. Also fine. I put it to you, readers:


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Sex and the UAE

Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from Anthony Lane’s review of 2008’s Sex and the City: The Movie: “I walked into the theatre hoping for a nice evening and came out as a hard-line Marxist, my head a whirl of closets, delusions, and blunt-clawed cattiness. All the film lacks is a subtitle: “The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe.”

At long last, my piece from yesterday’s Paper Machete. Enjoy.

This week in culture. For those of you who don’t know, who have been on Mars for the last decade, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, there exists a cultural phenomenon known as “Sex and the City”. Chronicling the friendship of a wealthy and white quartet of women in New York, the HBO series lasted six seasons, garnered 7 Emmys and 8 Golden Globes, and has spawned two feature films, the latest of which opens this coming Thursday.

The franchise has its devotees and its detractors. Many have praised its frank discussion of female sexuality and the general progress that has been made in women’s lives and options. Others condemn the shrill dialogue, strained credulity, and rampant materialism as symptomatic of a show presenting not women but four female stereotypes more concerned with shoes than substance. It’s a tribute to female camaraderie with the trappings of a wealth-based fairy tale. It’s a wealth-based fairy tale with the trappings of female camaraderie. It’s genuinely sweet. It’s deeply cynical. It’s great. It’s shit. Whatever. It’s a titillating moneymaker.

The first film earned over $415 million dollars worldwide. It had the highest box office opening ever for a film starring all women. That is not nothing. So, of course, the inevitable sequel. The market is there, it’s just good business to give it what it wants, and it’s distinctly American business to give the market what it wants in a bigger, more extravagant, more decadent fashion. Last time the girls went to Mexico. This time? Fuck Mexico. We’re going to Abu Dhabi, bitches. More sand than EVER. We’re taking our sexy party to the middle east. That’s so sex and fashion forward it’s backward. Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates and quite possibly the wealthiest of all Emirates: exotic, sovereign, Islamic.

Perhaps this means Burqas are the new Fendi handbag. After all, they do go with everything. By law.

It’s seems counterintuitive that a franchise purporting to be about progressive women and their sexually empowered lifestyles would choose the United Arab Emirates as its next backdrop. What conceivable sex romp could take place in Abu Dhabi? Will Samantha gleefully hit on sheiks and street vendors, her rapture for actual fucking and shoe fucking indistinguishable while the local women are guided past by their required-by-law male escorts? “Ah yes,” the required-by-law male escorts sigh knowingly, “The unclean whore will sleep well tonight.”

Michael Patrick King, one of the series’ creators and the writer/director of the two feature films, was recently interviewed explains that he chose the Middle East because “I wanted a big extravagant blockbuster vacation for the ladies in America who can’t really afford anything right now and I thought ‘Where do they have money? Abu Dhabi.’”1 Ladies. He did it for us.

For me, and you, and all the other recession-stricken sisters and cunty plebeians, so that we could dream of one day having so much money that we needn’t possess social conscience.

It’s true that the UAE is very wealthy, and with extreme affluence comes decadence. And, as we see in the trailer for “Sex and the City 2” Samantha sells the idea of the Abu Dhabi vacation by saying she can “hear the decadence calling.”2 In a recently leaked series of clips from the film, Carrie rhapsodizes over what the Middle East means to her. “I’ve always been fascinated by the Middle East. You know, desert moons, Scheherazade, magic carpets.” “Like Jasmine in Aladdin?” pipes up Charlotte’s aesthetically pleasing adopted Chinese daughter. “Yes, sweetie, just like Jasmine, but with cocktails,” Carrie replies.3 As usual, decadence is defined in the franchise by the Princess treatment: shopping, pretty drinks, various and sundry princes, and gal-pal dialogue that has never shone quite as brightly as the oversized jewelry.

But, isn’t it “Sex and the City”, and not “Wealth and the City?” Initially, the script called for a jaunt to Dubai4, a neighboring emirate and the location of the world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa, architecture and engineering courtesy of Chicago’s own Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill firm, cost 1.5 billion dollars and rises, like a spiring middle finger to the West, a staggering 2,717 feet in the air. It is a phallus for which Samantha Jones would have a dozen puns at the ready. But, it was not to be. Because the film’s title contains the word “sex.” Dubai considers itself a strict Islamic state. It was inappropriate. So, a pen stroke and Dubai became Abu Dhabi, which was generous enough to lend its name and will benefit from the spike in tourism that only a travel commercial with a built-in fan base and a $10,000,000 costume budget can provide.

But the vacation portrayed in the film opening on Thursday is very different from the usual trip foreign women take to the UAE. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda will wander from market stand to market stand, rhapsodizing over the cheap prices. They will wear what they want. Say what they want. Do what they want. They will be nothing like another quartet of women who traveled to the UAE: Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla. There will be no mention of those four women, or the other women in the UAE just like them. Because it is not in the interest of a lady sex romp to discuss the lady children who are lured and sold to one of the most popular human trafficking destinations in the world. There will be no breath of that, because Americans have proved squeamish about selling 14 year-old girls into tax exempt rape. We don’t do that. We favor the healthier alternative of indoctrinated body-hatred and self-loathing.

The sex trade, as a tourism industry, usually works like this: Economically vulnerable countries work to draw wealthy men from economically sound countries with a very specific interactive sightseeing: come to our cities and shores, breathe in the heady air, and fuck someone who has no other choice. Ain’t no pussy like starving pussy. Any hole you can think of, Mr. Smith, and we’ll even throw in a massage.

That’s not how it works in the UAE. The UAE needn’t cannibalize its women for financial gain, and any Islamic woman found working in the sex trade would almost certainly be found in huge breach of religious law and summarily executed by a relative. The UAE only recently resigned itself to women in the workplace at all, it’s a bit early to ask that they spread for tourists. They outsource that shit. Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla.

The deception of the “Sex and the City 2” is not that Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda would be sold into slavery the moment they exited the limo wearing a “J’adore Dior” t-shirt and tutu. It doesn’t happen like that. An American woman would almost never be sold into human trafficking. Too many people would ask questions, too high a likelihood of parents or a spouse insisting on investigation, too many families in poor countries willing to sell their own daughters and granddaughters and never breath a word of it. The deception of the film is that any thinking women visiting the UAE would be unaware of this industry. Lusa, Zenia, Tanya, Nayla.

Lusa, Uzbekistan, orphan, was sold at the age of 17. Her abduction was arranged by her aunt, who wanted Lusa’s apartment. That’s an interesting twist on the lengths women will go to for real estate. She was given to a prostitution and slavery ring. When they decided she was no longer usable they threw her away, abandoning her at a psychiatric center. Because she entered the UAE illegally the government decided that she should serve two years in prison.5

Zenia, Iraq, 15. Her father sold her to a Syrian trafficker who took her to the UAE. She actually managed to escape. She actually managed to contact the police in the UAE. They deported her back to Baghdad, where the government called her a whore, and sent her to jail for two years.6

Tanya, Ukraine, age unknown, sold for $7,000 to a pimp in Abu Dhabi. After three months she escaped and went to the police. Whore. Three years in prison. THEN deportation back to the Ukraine.7

Nayla, Azerbaijan, 9. Mother sold her to a trafficker in Dubai. Prostituted until she was 13. Police discovered her. Deported back to Azerbaijan. Prostituted another three years. Got pregnant. Found out she had AIDS when she gave birth to an HIV positive baby.8

That’s sex and the city in the UAE. How fucking decadent.

To be fair, some progress has been made over the past decade. Some infamous fuck clubs have been shuttered or torn down to the sand. Some organizations for abused women have popped up along the coast. In 2009 the UAE upgraded from a Tier 3 country to a Tier 2, meaning that the UAE is no longer one of the places on Earth with the worst treatment of humans, although it is still on the Tier 2 “Watch List.” It’s true that the UAE has made significant progress in the prevention of politically motivated imprisonment, the illegal employment or servitude of children, and torture as a police tool, but its practices concerning the obstruction of rape, kidnapping, forced prostitution, and trafficking remain woefully ineffectual.

The UAE only prohibited trafficking last year. But even now that the UAE is prosecuting traffickers, those most likely to suffer remain the women who have been deceived and used, lured by money, love, or the promise of a life less horrific than the one to which they were born. And, as in Las Vegas, what happens in Abu Dhabi, stays in Abu Dhabi.

How little do you have to value women for this to be customary?

How little does the “Sex and the City” franchise think of women? The UAE is not just desert moons, Scheherazade, and magic carpets. In what conceivable post-9/11 film do 4 American women, from New York, not understand that?

If ever “Sex and the City” was about the strength and independence of women, if that was ever the case, it’s been blown to shit in one fell swoop.

Abu Dhabi is Carrie Bradshaw’s latest accessory. And vice versa. The celebration of an exotic locale in an internationally successful film will have one very distinct result: Abu Dhabi’s tourism will spike, and the sex industry will flourish. But “Sex and the City” fans looking for the illusion presented in the film will find themselves in a country where a public kiss earns you a jail stint, and being American will not help you. There’s a reason that although the film is set in Abu Dhabi it was filmed in Morocco, in North Africa. In Abu Dhabi, Carrie Bradshaw would not be allowed outside of the hotel. Tourists looking for romance, in the light of day on the Persian Gulf, will find that it is considered tasteless, and criminal. They will be told to have the modesty to wait until after sunset, when the duped teenagers are taken to market.

How many people in this room right now are thinking “Stupid bitches?” Who’s looking at me, thinking, “Oh, thank God, at least there’s one woman who doesn’t fall for this bullshit. At least there’s one.” At least there’s one? How many women do you know? The series and films were created by men, and their creation goes hand in hand with a pervasive misogyny in America that comes down to two words. Stupid. Bitches. They’ll buy this. There’s no one in the room who’s unaffected, one way or the other.

There ought to be a female driven, globally successful television and film franchise. And one of its traits should be an empowered and open view of sex. There ought to be a television show or film that features a woman saying to a man, “Prove to me irrevocably that you are a feminist, and then we’ll discuss the earth-shattering blow job I’m capable of delivering.” And she had substance, too…well, that would be just great. I want to watch that show.

Sex and the City 2” opens May 27, 2010. Please, don’t go see it.

1Michael Patrick King, The Daily Show Site, May 12, 2010, available from http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-may-12-2010/michael-patrick-king; Internet; accessed May 16, 2010.

2Sex and the City 2 Trailer, Youtube, April 12, 2010, available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNMmm9xmEmE; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010.

3Sex and the City 2 Clips, Jezebel, May 17, 2010, available from http://jezebel.com/5541051/nine-sex-and-the-city-2-clips-leaked-for-your-pleasure?skyline=true&s=i; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010.

4MIDDLE EAST: The idea of filming ‘Sex and the City 2’ in Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Perish the thought, Los Angeles Times Blog, April 24, 2010, available from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/04/sex-city-carrie-dubai-abu-dhabi-morocco-emirates-film-movie-television-new-york-sarah-jessica-parker.html; Internet; accessed May 17, 2010

5U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report June 2005 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 2005), 7.

6Iraqi Child Sex Slave? Welcome to Prison! End Human Trafficking Site, May 6, 2010, available from http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/iraqi_child_sex_slave_welcome_to_prison; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010

7Human Trafficking from Armenia to Dubai, UAE, Mideast Youth Site, June 19, 2007, available from http://www.mideastyouth.com/2007/06/19/human-trafficking-from-armenia-to-dubai-uae/; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010

8U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2006 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 2006) available from http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/65983.htm; Internet; accessed May 21, 2010.

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Sorry for the gap in blogs. I’m working on a crazy-involved research piece that will premiere this Saturday at Paper Machete. Once that’s done I’ll post it here, but until then: REVIEWS. THREE! THREE REVIEWS! AH-AH-AH!

Tad in 5th City – 4 stars

An unflinching depiction of poverty isn’t often paired with genuine warmth. But MPAACT’s latest manages the neat trick of addressing the chaos surrounding black children in the aftermath of Chicago’s 1968 riots with bounce, honesty and delight. Adapting from the poetry of Orron Kenyatta, a public-school teacher and 12-year veteran of the spoken-word scene, Stillwell pulls from the verse the slight story of good-boy-in-bad-circumstances Tad and wisely lets the language take the lead. As indicated by Shepsu Aakhu’s set (five arresting slice-of-life paintings of criminals, police and citizens), Tad comprises a series of vignettes and refrains, not so much a story as a compendium of West Side pride and sorrow.

Stillwell has also gathered a remarkable ensemble. As Tad, fifth-grader Destin L. Teamer has a natural and endearing stage presence. Andre Teamer, Destin’s real-life father and the play’s narrator, pushes the evening along with strength and hope as he laments the sorry lot of Fifth City’s women and bandies wits with an obnoxious preacher. Sati Word, as said preacher and a variety of lowlifes, is the evening’s scene-stealer, wrangling more laughs out of a dealer’s glance or a pimp’s gesture than ought to be possible. With Sharlet Webb’s fantastic ’70s costumes and Red Clay’s original live music rounding out, Tad provides a glimpse into one of Chicago’s darkest times without losing heart.

Lady X – 3 stars

Flimflam, palookas, chippies and a formidable sex act alluded to as a “French accordion job” make up just a small percentage of the crime jargon that Cerda has made his bitch in Handbag’s latest parody. The clip-joint slang flies so fast and furious it’s easy to lean back and do nothing more than relish the one-liners. The story’s an enjoyably ludicrous send-up of the 1937 Bette Davis flick Marked Woman, the tale of a prostitute turned avenger looking to bring her gangster boss down. Czaplewski fills the evening with delightful film trappings, from handheld spinning headlines to the cast turning emotions on a quick-cut dime.

Gleefully rode hard and put away wet, the whores and no-goodniks crowding the stage constantly vie for the title of filthiest joker. Lead actor Annie Gloyn wins “most inexhaustible,” channeling Bette Davis with as much wry intelligence as the broad herself. But it’s Elizabeth Lesinski, playing dumb Southern belle Emmy Lou, who emerges as the evening’s comedic standout, nailing lines like, “Everyone needs love, Gabby. Even burn victims and cripples.”

The technical elements, from a spotty strobe light to a cramped stage, can’t match the performances for Mickey Spillane crispness. Cerda, Handbag’s artistic director and a devotee of caricature, has written a diligently rank takeoff of ’30s melodrama, but his faithfulness hampers the play. While the second act is gangbusters, the first is pleasant but slow; this Lady takes her time to warm up.

The Ghost Sonata – 3 stars

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Truax, a Redmoon alum and driving force at Trap Door, has turned Strindberg’s classic chamber play into a showpiece for his work as a visual auteur. But it’s no less impressive: The story of various Swedes undone by greed, lies and family, Oracle’s Sonata is propelled forward by startling tableaus. Masked servants and guests seated along Truax and Brieanne Hauger’s hallway of diminishing perspective invoke a Poe-like sinisterness. A spectral maid gives a young student water via shadow. Michal Janicki’s video collages of still photographs and moving actors neatly demarcate the line between living and inanimate. In a story that denounces family and relationships as an emotional house of mirrors, Truax has taken the optical illusions to a splendid conclusion. Sonata is never less than beautiful to watch.

It may be inevitable that such meticulous attention to visual detail relegates narrative to the backseat. The story is mostly discernible thanks to the palpable mood, but moments that imply severe revelation don’t hit as hard as they should. The cast, like the technical elements, looks great. While Rich Logan’s rotten, palsied avenger and Ann Sonneville’s black-widow mummy are standouts, everyone nails a movement and performance style that would be at home in a Tod Browning horror flick. Yet the near constant music, always played at fever-grade, and the strict physicality render the evening a bit one-note. As aesthetically pleasing as a corset, this Sonata leaves little room for itself to breathe.

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Far left. Laughing. Hi, mama.

Forrest Montanye Parrish, named after her uncle, fifth child out of six, birthday four days after mine, 5 feet 8 inches, imperfect and excellent.

Forrest, I ask for you to hear me, half a continent South.

I apologize for almost drowning in the Atlantic at age two.

Forrest, my memories serve as a code for behavior, from forgiveness to table settings.

I apologize for any and all public rudenesses.

Forrest, my memory recalls a women willowy enough to traverse through E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for Kenneth Grahame and A.A. Milne.

I apologize for taking exception to your thin school of beauty.

Forrest, from my enemies defend me.

I apologize for giving you cause to side with teachers.

Forrest, with pity behold the sorrows of my heart.

I apologize for your lack of recourse concerning the majority of my enemies.

Forrest, I ask for continued aid despite our geographical distance.

I apologize for that distance’s necessity.

Forrest, favorably with mercy hear my prayers.

I apologize for not recognizing you as a fellow agnostic sooner.

Forrest, though I shy from church I enjoy the linguistics.

I apologize, as always, for the lies I employed before turning to fiction.

Forrest, mothers are why judgment and apocalypse became synonymous.

I apologize for tempting rapture when you could not see or speak out against me.

Forrest, I would welcome a more constant judgment from you, and a nearer one.

I apologize for any sins of omission.

Forrest, keep me despite my failures of birth and effort.

I apologize for having been born cross-eyed and proud.

Forrest, consider me a worthy sentry for the family history.

I apologize for our mutual sorrows, against which neither of us has formed a plan.

Forrest, continue to teach by example the art of community.

I apologize for my unshakable selfishness and wariness of children.

Forrest, continue to exonerate those less worthy.

I apologize for condemning your frequent, easy, and public forgivenesses of those less worthy.

Forrest, continue to enter the houses of the rich with the smell of beach and retriever on your clothes.

I apologize for having lost my swimming shoulders and brown skin.

Forrest, continue to hold unkindness in the highest contempt.

I apologize for my frequent, relished, and public unkindnesses.

Forrest, continue to wish me well on my travels.

I apologize for their thus far paltry fruits.

Forrest, continue to keep the home to which we all may return.

I apologize for wanting only to visit.

Forrest, continue to run along the coast, for your existence is a comfort.

I apologize for not returning that comfort.

I thank you, and I love you, and I try far more than once a year to live up to you, and your legacy of joy and clapping hands.

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Courtesy of Kris Vire. Thanks, Kris!

Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer

Sometimes when Neil LaBute walks down the street, people come  up and tell him how much they hate him.

It’s not hard to see why: LaBute’s controversial work as a  playwright, screenwriter and director – such as his epochal 1997 film, “In the Company of Men” – explore the depths of human cruelty and sadism.

In “Company,” for instance, two heartless corporate men set out  to emotionally annihilate a deaf woman. His other work, including the new release “The Shape of Things” (opening Friday), also depicts people being emotionally crushed.

Many of LaBute’s detractors, however, don’t target his plays or  films. Their venom is directed squarely at him.

“People are very clear about the distinction of hating me,”  says LaBute, who lives in Barrington with his wife and two children. “They know it’s not the characters. It’s me. They just flat out hate me.”

Filmmakers are used to taking flack from critics. They can  shake off a few angry fans. But for LaBute, the vitriol is getting dangerously close to home – quite literally.

He’s on the brink of being kicked out of the Mormon church for  his inflammatory writing. And his biggest critic may be his wife.

“I’m offended by his work,” says Lisa LaBute, his wife. “It’s been a real problem in our marriage, to be honest. I find it offensive. People say, ‘He’s a genius! It’s so great! It’s so deliciously dark!’ And my stomach is just churning.”

Despite this onslaught of criticism, Neil LaBute has no  intention of capping his poison pen.

“Ultimately, you have to be true to the way you envision your  work,” he says calmly.

Looks are deceiving

In person, Neil LaBute certainly doesn’t come across as a  monster: He’s a rumpled, unkempt presence with the air of a thoughtful intellectual.

His professorial appearance hasn’t kept him from being  controversial. His work has been a national lightning rod ever since his debut film “Company” hit theaters six years ago.

Critics both praised and savaged the film: “Company” was  nominated for the dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and it captured the Best First Screenplay prize at the Independent Spirit Awards.

On the other side of the spectrum, though, one critic called “Company” a “psychological snuff film,” while another said it left him “feeling as if you’ve witnessed a rape that you’d done nothing to stop.”

Neil sees his art as a way of challenging an overly passive  society.

“Very often, we’re presented with material that asks nothing of  us other than to watch it and go onto the next thing,” he says. “I’m happy to have people respond in any way.”

His wife is happy to oblige with a response of her own. In  Lisa’s opinion, her husband is just out to shock people with extreme cruelty.

“He says, ‘I put this stuff out there so people can learn from  it and see what not to do,’ “ Lisa says. “And that’s such a crock.”

Certainly the play “Bash” would qualify for a “don’t try this  at home” disclaimer. In the play, a recently engaged couple sits apart onstage, recounting a trip to New York City. While the woman describes her lovely dress and their ritzy hotel, the man tells about the gay man whom he and two friends savagely beat to death.

The darkness continues in “The Shape of Things,” which depicts  how a woman devastates a passive, timid man in the name of her art.

Lisa says she has a difficult time showing Neil’s work to their  two children: “It’s very hard for me to say, ‘Oh yeah, this is daddy’s movie,’ “ she says. “What I find especially offensive is the sexual content – I find it really awful.”

Such examples might include 1988’s “Your Friends and  Neighbors,” in which Jason Patric’s character, Cary, brags about sending an ex-girlfriend a fake notice – on hospital stationery – that she has AIDS. Cary also icily recounts a time he sodomized a teenaged boy without a sliver of regret.

Neil acknowledges his work is currently “inappropriate” for his  kids, but so is much of what is on TV.

“When they’re old enough to decide for themselves what they  want to watch, I will probably have very little jurisdiction over it anyway,” he says. “I’m not going to be embarrassed by what I’ve written.”

Lisa emphasizes that she “loved” his lighter 2000 film “Nurse  Betty” – which he directed but didn’t write – and his recent film “Possession,” starring Aaron Eckhart (who also starred in “Company”) and Gwyneth Paltrow.

“I think he’s very talented and very gifted, and he could  really make people happy and entertain them, and he hasn’t gone that way,” says Lisa, who’s a mental health therapist.

Lisa acknowledges that her husband has been pressured to repeat  the bleak theme of “Company” in his later work.

“To be fair, people want him to be the prince of darkness,” she  says. “But I think it’s boring, and I’m tired of it.”

Neil realizes his wife has problems with some of his writing,  but says, “I feel like she’s smart enough to have her own opinion. I can’t feel disappointed or anything like that. I’m happy that someone feels strong enough to voice their opinion rather than just give me lip service and say, ‘It’s all great.’ “

Look to the light

Instead of pursuing such gloomy themes, Lisa says she would  like Neil to channel his gifts toward a cerebral comedy, like Albert Brooks’ “Defending Your Life.”

“Neil can be absolutely hilarious,” she says. “And people want  to be entertained. They don’t necessarily want to feel like they have to take a bath afterwards because they’ve been rolling around in the mud.”

Neil is aware that he’s chosen a darker path, but he insists  it’s not his job to make the next “Sleepless in Seattle.”

“Would I want to just make people laugh or smile? That would be  great,” he says. “But I’m not in the business of that. I’m not in the business of anything, really, except telling interesting stories.”

He adds that he may try a comedy someday, but, “Those are  incredibly hard to do. I think it’s easier to be funny than to write funny. It’s hard to sit down and say, ‘I’ve got some funny things for people to say.’ “

Neil says he’s familiar with the strong criticism his films  receive, and he knows people use words like “misogynist” and “misanthrope” to describe him. (He named his production company Contemptible Entertainment.)

Yet he’s puzzled by people who are profoundly disturbed by his  films.

“The harshest movie I’ve ever seen is, at the end of the day,  still just a movie,” he says. “These are actors, who will be taking a break and going to lunch. As much as I love movies, I’m rarely ever completely swept away to a point where I forget I’m watching a film.”

He continues, “It’s hard for me to believe a person can get  that lost in something that you’ve changed his life, or you’ve ruined it.”

While Lisa doesn’t say her husband’s work has ruined her life,  she does say, “After I see his stuff, it’s just so heavy and dirty. I feel like saying, ‘Can you just get this stuff off of me?’ “

Mormon troubles

Neil LaBute considers himself a religious man. More  specifically, he’s a practicing Mormon, a religion that prohibits swearing, dancing, engaging in premarital sex and drinking coffee or alcohol.

He converted to the Mormon faith as a student at Brigham Young  University in Salt Lake City, a school he attended on a minority scholarship available to non-Mormons.

Yet despite his religious convictions, his grim work has led to  censure from the Mormon Church. He’s been disfellowshipped – just one step above excommunication.

Neil understands the conflict: “ ‘If we as people are not meant  to swear or do this or that, how can you keep making movies that we’re not supposed to go see?’ “ he asks of himself rhetorically.

“So yes, there is a question about this,” he says. “I’m sure  it’s a question that will come to a head at some point, and I’ll have to make a choice between my church and writing.”

And if that happens, which way will he go?

“I wish I was saying, ‘Oh, of course, I choose the church,’ “  he says. “But it’s hard. Because I’m a writer. And I feel I need to write. And usually when someone tells me to do something, I tend to go the other way. So I’m just going to do my best to make a wise choice.”

The criticism from the Mormon church came mostly in the wake of  “Bash,” which starred Calista Flockhart and aired on Showtime. Comprised of three separate works, “Bash” features characters with Mormon connections carrying out acts of stunning cruelty and malice.

Lisa says she can understand the church’s problems with her  husband’s work.

“The Mormon church is a very warm, very embracing religion, and  we’re supposed to be glorifying God,” she says. “If Jesus came down and sat next to you, would you be able to watch one of Neil’s movies with him? And the answer, of course, is ‘no.’ “

‘Bratty side’

Paul Rudd, who stars in the new film “The Shape of Things,”  says he learned first-hand how deeply Neil LaBute’s work affects people.

“Shape” was a play before it became a movie, and Rudd was one  of the drama’s four actors. In the play’s climactic scene, Rudd took a seat among the audience, who watched in horror as Rudd’s character was emotionally eviscerated by the woman he loves.

“The people sitting next to me never looked at me,” says Rudd.  “They just pulled away. Their discomfort was so strong that they couldn’t even look at me. It was wild to see how much you can manipulate people.”

Neil makes his opposition to apathy felt quite clearly at the  end of “Shape”: In the pivotal scene, one of the characters turns directly into the camera and, theatrically raising both hands, flips her middle fingers to indifference.

Neil acknowledges that “There may have been a bit of a bratty  side to that on my part.”

At the same time, though, “It does bring up those questions of,  ‘Is the director saying that to me? Or is the character saying that to me?’ And I don’t mind creating that tension or misunderstanding between myself and the audience.”

He also is defiantly unwilling to provide even remotely happy  conclusions to his works: The vindictive characters get away with their cruelty, while the victims are left with nothing but despair.

Lisa feels this is almost tantamount to abusing the audience:  “He just doesn’t care for happy endings at all, and I can’t understand that.”

Neil makes no apologies.

“I’m totally satisfied with those endings,” he says. “I’m  totally cool with people not ending up in a place that they’re used to reaching, where justice is served and the good guy wins out. I’m happier when things end like they do in life, where you don’t usually get happy endings.”

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Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from Season 1 of Breaking Bad:

Jesse: [referring to a crossbow] Dude, what’d you bring that for?

Badger: Hunting. We might see javelinas.

Just a brief, cool update. My shoulder’s on Mike Daisey’s website. Scroll down for my Yeats tattoo. BAM.


Also, about Mike Daisey: his brilliant show “The Last Cargo Cult” has only three more performances in Chicago (at the Victory Gardens) before it goes away and NEVER COMES BACK. In the words of younger brother Walker, after last night’s performance: “Dude. That CRUSHED.”

Go. Be crushed.

A preview of the badassery:

Also, Time Out’s own Kris Vire blogged about the show yesterday.

ALSO: Mike Daisey will also be performing at this Saturday’s Paper Machete in Lincoln Square.

Just…just fucking go, okay? It’s the best thing you’ll see this year. Go. You’re welcome.

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Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from the Rifftrax commentary for the $400 million grossing motion picture Twilight: “Summit Entertainment presents…an inexplicable cultural phenomenon.”

To start out I’m gonna toss it over to the fine persons of Urban Dictionary:

1. GUILTY PLEASURE    n.   Something that you shouldn’t like, but like anyway.

Now, I’m of the David Edelstein school of thought, which aims boldly “to have no shame, no guilty pleasures, only pleasures.” If you like something, you like it, and I’ve watched my (beloved, wonderful, occasionally intellectually fascist) relatives berate others for their taste until it seems they’re discussing one’s preference for the Nazis and instead of The Royal Tenenbaums (which is fucking great, Aunt Heather). My own tastes are, shall we say, eclectic?

Brother Walker: Bitch-ass dark.

Sister Laurel: If you play Portishead one more time I’ll cut myself. Right here in the car. And I will bleed all over your trip-hop-endorsing face. …but you’re great.

In any event, I’m hardly a proponent of casting stones. If you like a film, book, album, super. Maybe I did, too. Maybe I didn’t. But I’m not gonna dismiss you if our opinions differ, and I hope you’ll return the favor.

But, then again, there’s shit like Twilight. But, first. Some background.

Now, as a young lass, like many other freakish children before me, I was enamored of all things scary/morbid/unsettling to my mother. My dad, a walking paradox of a human (Southern Christian liberal democrat ex-New York Jet feminist tobacco attorney), encouraged my fascination with ghouls and spectres. His reasoning was twofold:

1. Good. She shouldn’t be scared of that crap.

2. My baby girl likes monsters? Sweet! Caitlin! C’mere, baby. We’re gonna watch some Tod Browning.

I ended up watching a lot of old horror movies with dad. He got a little uncomfortable once I moved on to The Exorcist and The Shining, but dude was always ready to go for a repeat viewing of Rebecca, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, and, of course, the 1931 Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Dad: (admiringly) “Bela, you bad man!”

Out of the original Universal Studio horror flicks (Mummy, Wolfman, Frankenstein, et.al), Dracula was far and away my favorite. But, dear God, why? It’s a much clunkier film than James Whale’s hilarious/sinister take on (send up of) Mary Shelley’s work. And the British people don’t even sound British! That’s normally a cardinal sin in my Anglophilic heart. And yet…


Vampires are shorthand for cool. And for young ladies who aren’t your typical girly girls, they’re shorthand for burgeoning sexuality. Some little girls wanna take horseback riding lessons, some wanna dress in black and get bit: same beastly source. Just sayin’, y’all.

Plus, True Blood is. The. SHIT.

Of late in our culture, there’s been a “resurgence” in vampire popularity, although I would argue that vampires are in no way the new black, only the somewhat pale pink.

Just in the decade or so prior to Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, etc., we had Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, the Buffy TV series and its spin-off Angel, Shadow of the Vampire, the Blade trilogy and Cronos (Del Toro represent), From Dusk Till Dawn, Underworld, Night Watch, Let the Right One In, 30 Days of Night, I Am Legend, and many, many, many other incarnations of debatable quality.

It may have been a while since there were so many crazy-profitable vampire franchises going simultaneously, but vampire movies/books/TV have never been far from the public consciousness. How could they? They’re archetypal sex. Like some skinny boys from Columbia once said, “Is your bed made? Is your sweater on? Do you want to fuck, like you know I do?”

I get why vampires are the sexual metaphor du jour. We are a culture in flux in terms of sexuality. We’re almost, glory be, to the point where no one gives a damn who you fuck, and what is a vampire besides a sexy equal-opportunity fluid consumer? We’re about thirty years and a bunch more bigot deaths away from living the dream, but the split in the US between “Care” and “Don’t care” is a luscious 50/50, and it shows. True Blood has delivered the most eloquent allegory of the changing times, with its vampires having “come out of the coffin”, admitting their existence in the “light of day”, and America having to deal with a seismic shift in how reality must be perceived. Also, it’s funny, there’s lots of attractive men being sexualized just as much if not more than their female cast-mates, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Alan Ball, let’s be friends.

And then. There’s Twilight.

Remember when I said I’m not one to judge others for their tastes or preferences when it comes to film/TV/books? Well, Twilight is the sparkly, racist, misogynistic, POORLY WRITTEN/FILMED, creepy-Mormon-fetish, Stephanie-Meyer-gives-a-damn-what-I-think-on-her-way-to-the-bank-but-fuck-her-anyway-for-perpetuating-this-damsel-in-distress-BULLSHIT exception to the FUCKING! RULE!

…I do not care for Twilight.

I do not like it on a plane, stilted dialogue gives me pain.

I do not like it in a house, ’cause Edward’s an abusive spouse.

I do not buy this Twilight shit, ’cause I am not a fucking twit.

And I can hear the echoing voices of the fans, the teenage girls from whom I expect better after Lyra Belaqua, Sookie Stackhouse, and Lucy Pevensie, screaming at me from behind their Edward Cullen posters: “We LOVE Bella and Edward! Because their LOVE is purer than any LOVE the world has ever known! LOVINGEST LOVE that EVER LOVED!”

And, yea, I say unto them: “Bite me.”

And back at my face they cry: “You probably haven’t even seen it.”

And with a single tear I reply: “Oh. But I have. I voluntarily sat through that overlong abortion just so I could back my shit up. I have been to the Black Mountain and seen the true face of Young Adult fiction, and, yea, I declare that you worship a false God!”

Yeah, I watched it. ‘Cause here’s the thing. It’s easy to scoff at a cultural zeitgeist from afar. Informed scoffing, however, the kind that can occasionally change minds? That requires effort. I watched the goddamn movie. When I say it’s a festering stillborn with 19th century mores, I know what I’m talking about.

So for the few of you out there who know nothing of Twilight, allow me to catch you up:

Bella = new girl in town/ponderous asshole. Everyone digs her. Edward = hottest guy in school/vampire. He sparkles in sunlight. He also has serious stalker tendencies, which in the Twilight universe are romantic. They love each other SO HARD. Like WHOA. But they can’t have sex without marriage/mutual vampirism, because Edward’s magical vampire cock would snap Bella’s weak, mortal vagina in half. On top of which, Bella’s always, like, physically threatened by other vampires, and stuff? She can’t DO anything about this, but luckily her stalker boyfriend Edward, or pseudo boyfriend Jacob (Native American werewolf, ’cause in a Mormon fantasy brown people are shape shifters. Natch) are always there to save her whining pale ass. Ever after. The end.


I have friends who enjoy Twilight, both the book series and film adaptations. They are wonderful, wise, and witty people, and I adore them muchly. But they insist upon coming to Twilight’s defense, and when that happens I find myself hitting a f’real wall in terms of tolerance. And I don’t like that. I don’t like a franchise as shitty as Twilight having that kind of power over my emotions. And I don’t like that I make judgements about the people who dig it. But I hear someone say “I just love Twilight” and my brain immediately responds “DIE. IN A FIRE.”

Because here’s the thing. We have moved beyond a world in which the only choice a woman has is which boyfriend to pick. We have moved beyond a world in which sex is primarily something that will kill you. And, just for the record? Vampire abstinence is just as IF NOT MORE boring than human abstinence. And Twilight doesn’t care. Twilight is a tree that bleeds money, and teaches girls that the option to take control of their lives and bodies does not exist.

And you know what? I maybe wouldn’t be so up in arms about it if Stephanie Meyer could string two sentences together. She can’t. And the film adaptation with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson? I’ve seen more chemistry between a pile of laundry and another pile of laundry. Fuck. That.

“Oh, but it’s a guilty pleasure. I know it’s awful but it’s just so addictive. I know it’s awful. I know, I know, I know…”

Yeah. You know. So what the fuck? There are better vampire franchises out there. True Blood has actual sex! And plot lines! And female characters who DO SHIT. I love the international sisterhood, but seriously! You bitches out there pining for Edward Cullen? You have some serious self-hatred going on there. Think about that it. Take a moment and really consider why you’re drawn to a relationship where the power is one-sided, sex is forbidden, and the most romantic ending possible is both of you being undead emo sticks.

Long story short? You like Twilight? You should feel guilty.

Jesus Christ. Just read some Stieg Larsson and get back to me.

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