X2: X-Men United (2003)

Okay, my optimism has rewarded me on the analogy front and has also shot me down to a degree. X2, the second of what will soon be 7 X-Men films (blatantly) continues the analogy from the first film that mutants are gay.  It also continues the Malcolm X/Magneto, MLKR/Professor X train of the analogy and actually gives it more substance and complexity (even if it is still somewhat problematic in conclusion).

The first aspect of the film to mirror a rights struggle analogy is in the opening battle sequence. Nightcrawler attacks the white house, almost killing the president with a knife that has a ribbon attached to it with the words, “Mutant Freedom Now.” I unfortunately see that as an attempted knock at more militant activist groups (in the American consciousness most commonly associated with the Black Panther Party) and a continuation of Magneto’s problematic nature in these films.

The analogy then takes a more progressive/realist turn with an attack on the school. The raid seems reminiscent of the raids on gay bars that eventually led to the Stonewall riots and the film rightfully portrays this raid as a flagrant abuse of power that should be righteously rebelled against (as done by Wolverine).

Because of the raid, Wolverine, Iceman, Pyro, and Rogue flee to Boston to Iceman’s house where we are treated to a classic “coming out” scene. The mom has such great lines as, “when did you first know that you are a…” and “have you tried not being a…” Never being able to say the word mutant. While funny, it does come off as a little too on the nose until the police arrive. The best part of this scene is the younger brother who storms out angrily and calls the cops. He is made to represent the rejection that these teens face when coming out and it is done really effectively.

The other perfectly done part of this film happens between the villain Robert Stryker and Professor X. It is a short scene with other elements that transcend the analogy but a key piece of dialogue woven in involves Xavier saying, “Mutation is not a disease,” and Stryker screaming back, “YES IT IS.” It is jarring and feels like the honest denial of a homophobic parent. It also highlights his character’s relationship to the analogy through his son. He sent his son to Xavier’s school to be “cured” and then took him out when he realized that wasn’t Xavier’s goal. It then seems to become Stryker’s goal in life to reform mutants, turning him into the hyper-conservative gay reformer we think of today.

Then the film does something truly interesting. For about an hour Magneto becomes an anti-hero and teams up with the X-Men to stop the antagonist. Magneto’s methods are condoned for a large portion of the film as necessary due to circumstances. Where Xavier’s pacifism would have failed, Magneto’s violence seems to succeed through most of the film as a means of saving Xavier. It’s unfortunate that he eventually tries to use Xavier’s powers to kill all human beings, again feeding into the revolutionary-as-villain trope. But the film at least complicates the issue this time and I give it points for that.

The other aspect of the film that I want to comment on even though I have no firm conclusions is the concept of naming. Xavier uses a mix of birth names and mutant names in reference to his X-Men. Ororo Munroe is Storm and Scott Summers is Cyclops but Phoenix is Jean Grey and Wolverine is Logan. Stryker and Magneto on the other hand use the mutant names almost exclusively. For Stryker it is a method of demeaning and dehumanizing the mutants but for Magneto it’s something different.

There is a scene where Magneto is talking to the young mutant John Allerdyce and asks him his name. John replies that it is “John” but Magneto then asks for his ‘real’ name to which he replies, “Pyro.” Magneto then affirms Pyro that he is a god among insects and to never be ashamed of his powers.

This complements another scene when Nightcrawler asks Mystique why she does not always stay morphed to look “like everyone else.” She replies that it is because she shouldn’t have to.

Like I said I don’t have anything concrete to say about the use of birth vs mutant names but there are airs of both an analogy to the trans experience of changing names and the general oppressed experience of reclaiming harmful language. It is definitely one of the more interesting parts of this series and something I will continue to keep a close eye for going through the other 5 films.

X2 is a much better film than its predecessor and its use of the primary analogy in the series is better and more nuanced. There are still problems in the film when following the analogy but its nice to watch a superhero film that can have fun while still having meaning.

Best Shots – X-Men (2000)

I believe it was while I was watching Michael Mann’s Manhunter that I first developed the desire to screencapture during films. I had loved the art of cinematography since starting in film school and this got me to really focus on the films I was watching from a visual perspective. And because of this, for most films I try and take a few (or a lot) of screencaptures while watching them.

So as a series of blogs I plan on doing around here, after each film I watch with this process in mind I will post between seven and twenty screencaps that I deem the best from the chosen film. This was definitely inspired by the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series from TheFilmExperience, but as I’ve been taught time and time again good artists borrow, great ones steal. (Afterthought: When I went to go get the link for TFEs Best Shot series I found that coincidentally enough X-Men was their first film as well. Funny how things turn out eh?)

And for the first instalment of our Best Shots series here, we will be going with Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Its not a terribly great film I will admit. The action sequences in particular are kinetically if inelegantly done. It made me a little sad how little imagination there was considering that Newton Thomas Siegl later did the cinematography for Drive; an elegantly shot film.

If there is one thing I love about the cinematography in this film it would be the more sparcely composed shots. Wolverine lying in the snow, when he’s confused after waking up, Cyclops’ power shots. They are almost literally read from left to right given where the elements draw your attention.

The next in this series will likely be X2 since I’ve started it anyways. There will also be one for every film in my June Film Series.

X-Men (2000)

Anyone who looks for even an inkling of deeper meaning in film is likely familiar with the great X-Men analogy. X-Men are just like us they were just born the way they are and we can’t try and change them. Although we have tried.

It’s a massive analogy for the queer community. The struggle through abusive testing, legislation, segregation, etc. The first film opens with grandiose speeches about human evolution, Nazi-level intolerance, and a presentation to the US Senate about the dangers of forcing mutants to be public and registered with their identities.

There are plenty of details that solidify this analogy. The senator advocating for mutant registration asks, “do we want our children being taught by them?” Logan  was experimented on because of his mutation; which while done for the opposite purpose sounds similar to gay reformation efforts. Rogue hurts anyone she touches, starting with a kiss; a clear parallel to AIDS and the sexual disease aspect of anti-gay intollerance.

This is the primary conflict of themes in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, half of the film is commenting on the rights movement for LGBTQ people and the other half is commenting on broader post-human themes. The narrative about mutation is at many times in conflict with its thematic analogy.

This is probably the film’s greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. By connecting the struggle of LGBTQ people into the films narrative it is able to make some particularly strong commentary, particularly about the impact that intolerance has on children. And this connection is made stronger by the disconnect between the mutant/queer struggles. At least these mutant children have a place to go thanks to Dr Xavier. When gay or trans kids are forced out of there homes for whatever reason, they go to poorly funded and unsustainable youth shelters. By injecting the two themes together into the story, the real world implications of this kind of intolerance become clear by juxtaposition.

The film also brings other aspects of this analogy to light through its use of language. One of the more interesting would be Magneto’s use of “my brothers” as a greeting for other mutants. There is certainly an aspect of the queer discourse of a hierarchy of identities and the power that lies therein. The most common example of this is in how the identities of trans folk and the pronouns and names they prefer are not respected. Magneto calling Jean Grey and Storm “brothers” rings true to that experience. His ideology trumps his solidarity.

Those are the positives at work in the film’s analogy: now for the more problematic angle.

There has actually been a fair amount written about the other side of the X-Men analogy. I want to make clear before we continue though that for the purposes of the analysis here, we are only focusing on the first X-Men film. This analogy becomes deeper and more complicated through each of the other 5 films (not to mention the history in the comics) and we’ll tackle those films on their own.

So, as the links above describe, there is a comparison to be made between Professor X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Irving Greenberg while Magneto is compared to Malcolm X and Rabbi Meir Kahane. This is something Stan Lee himself has confirmed. King and X in particular were the inspiration for Xavier and Magneto at the point of their creation.

Now considering the change from a racial politics analogy to a sexual politics analogy, it might seem that for Bryan Singer’s X-Men this might have softened a little to acknowledge the problematic nature of comparing Malcolm X to a supervillain.

Unfortunately, the last line that Magneto utters in the film confirms that he is indeed supposed to be the Malcolm X figure. As Charles is visiting him in prison, Magneto reminds that there will still be a war between the humans and the mutants, and that he intends to fight it…

 

It is remarkably unfortunate that this line was included. For those unfamiliar with Malcolm X, arguably his most famous speech ended with this sentence.

We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” 

And so this film cannot escape the connection between Magneto and Malcolm X that has existed since Magneto’s creation. The X-Men are Professor Xavier’s assimilationist forces combating the revolutionary forces of Magneto’s Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants. This problem has existed in white America since the time of the civil rights movement: describing Martin Luther King Jr as an angelic figure while Malcolm X is the evil radical activist bent on destroying white people.

This view (which is absurd if you have read the other works of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr) is totally confirmed in the film. Magneto’s plan is to turn all of the world leaders considering the question of Mutant registration into Mutants themselves. Its like taking the worst parts of how straight America sees gay people – wanting to make everyone gay – and the worst parts of how white America sees radical black activists – wanting to destroy their way of life – and putting it all together in this super misrepresentation.

X-Men is a conflicted film in its attempt at progressive politics. It gets the effect of intolerance on youth but it creates a seriously problematic portrayal of any activists that choose to be anything but non-violent. As we go through the rest of the series with this lens I do hope that I find more inspiring portrayals than exist in the latter half of this first film.

 

A New Hope – QueerMyntCritic moves to WordPress

A New Hope – QueerMyntCritic moves to WordPress

Well world, it looks like we are really doing this. After what seems like an eternity on Tumblr (with this blog its been about 18 months but I’ve been using the site for about 5 years now) I’m moving my actual blogging – you know, the kind where I write about things – over to WordPress. In terms of pure publishing power it is definitely the better site and it also has a great app which will allow me to publish more liberally away from my computer. The tumblrblog will likely still be active every once in a while doing what tumblr does best, reblogging random images and posts about movies. But in terms of actually writing content, it’s all coming this way baby.

And to celebrate this new move I have a project for the month of June. As those of you who have been following me for a while will know, last year I did the ultimate Disney Binge. I caught bronchitis towards the end of Man and then decided that I would watch all of the Disney films. I did that in eight days. I’m not going to do that to myself again. Rather, I decided I would watch only one film each day of June and then set some rules to guide me.

  1. No two films from the same director.
  2. No two films from the same year.
  3. 2/3 of the films must be ones I have not seen.
  4. They must be films I could define as beautiful

Below is the list of films I will be watching and as you are likely to see, there are 12 films that are bolded. Those are the films I have seen before. Yes, I’m breaking a rule before I start. The reasoning was that two films among the twelve (Barry Lyndon and Vive L’Amour) are films that I have not seen in an extensive period of time. I remember them being beautiful though and am very interested in revisiting them: so I made two exceptions.

And because I’m so meta its almost a problem, I’ve decided to model my watching schedule after Christopher Nolan’s Memento. The films that I have seen before I will be watching in reverse order from most recent to least recent (beginning and ending with a previously seen film) and films I have not seen before I will be watching chronologically. This is primarily done to give me a mix between older and newer films through the entire month but also because Memento rules.

Her

June 1 – 2013 – Her dir. Spike Jonze

June 2 – 1966 – Blow-Up – dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

June 3 – 2011 – Shame dir. Steve McQueen

June 4 – 1974 – The Phantom of Liberty dir. Luis Bunuel

June 5 – 1981 – Blow Out – dir. Brian De Palma

June 6 – 2004 – Sideways – dir. Alexander Payne

June 7 – 1984 – Once Upon a Time in America dir. Sergio Leone

Mullholland

June 8 – 2001 – Mulholland Drive dir. David Lynch

June 9 – 1985 – Ran dir. Akira Kurosawa

June 10 – 1999 – Magnolia dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

June 11 – 1986 – Mona Lisa dir. Neil Jordan

June 12 – 1994 – Vive L’Amour dir. Tsai Ming-Liang

June 13 – 1997 – Happy Together dir. Wong Kar Wai

June 14 – 1998 – The Idiots dir. Lars Von Trier

June 15 – 1993 – The Piano dir. Jane Campion

June 16 – 2000 – Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon dir. Ang Lee

atanarjuat

June 17 – 2002 – Atanarjuat dir. Zacharias Kunuk

June 18 – 1989 – Do the Right Thing dir. Spike Lee

June 19 – 2003 – Oldboy dir. Park Chan Wook

June 20 – 2005 – Broken Flowers dir. Jim Jarmusch

June 21 – 1975 – Barry Lyndon dir. Stanley Kubrick

June 22 – 2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth dir. Guillermo Del Toro

June 23 – 2007 – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead dir. Sidney Lumet

before the devil

June 24 – 1972 – The Godfather dir. Francis Ford Coppola

June 25 – 2008 – Synecdoche New York dir. Charlie Kaufmann

June 26 – 2009 – Enter the Void dir. Gaspar Noe

June 27 – 1965 – Le Bonheur dir. Agnes Varda

June 28 – 2010 – Winter’s Bone dir. Debra Granik

June 29 – 2012 – Chronicle dir. Josh Trank

June 30 – 1942 – Casablanca dir. Michael Curtiz

So there we are. The June movie project. Until that point there will probably be some other things I’ll be writing. In the lead up to X-Men Days of Future Past I’ve been watching the other X-Men films and I might write something about the parallel to the Queer community in those films since even after only 20 minutes it’s blaringly obvious that they are trying for that analogy. Otherwise, I’m off for tonight.

Why I hate the ending of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

It was pretty inevitable that I was going to dislike the fifth movie of the series. By that point I was 13 and had read the fifth book a number of times and it was probably my favourite of the books at that point. It was sprawling and deep and gave incredible detail into the mind of a teenager feeling lonely and depressed. Its still one of my favourite books, but the movie has always ticked me off. I generally chalk that up to the acting (there is a moment at the end when Radcliffe has this line “YOULL NEVER KNOW LOVE, OR FRIENDSHIP, AND I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU” and it is possibly the worst acting the series has to offer) but as my taste in film has become more delicate and tempered I can acknowledge the great things that exist in this film. However, I’m not going to talk about that here. Today I just want to talk about the adaptation of one chapter within the immense novel of Order of the Phoenix.

Chapter 37 is called The Lost Prophecy and it is my favourite chapter in the entire Harry Potter series. Sirius has died, Fudge has seen that Voldemort has returned. Dumbledore is back in charge of Hogwarts. And the scene opens with three great paragraphs that provide the emotional context of the clusterfuck that we have just witnessed.

“The silence and the stillness, broken only by the occasional grunt or snuffle of a sleeping portrait, was unbearable to him. If his surroundings could have reflected the feelings inside him, the pictures would have been screaming in pain. He walked around the quiet, beautiful office, breathing quickly, trying not to think. But he had to think… there was no escape… 

It was his fault Sirius had died; it was all his fault. If he, Harry, had not been stupid enough to fall for Voldemort’s trick, if he had not been so convinced that what he had seen in his dream was real, if he had only opened his mind to the possibility that Voldemort was, as Hermione had said, banking on Harry’s love of playing the hero…

It was unbearable, he would not think about it, he could not stand it… there was a terrible hollow inside him he did not want to feel or examine, a dark hole where Sirius had been, where Sirius had vanished; he did not want to have to be alone with that great, silent space, he could not stand it.”

Those three paragraphs explain Harry’s guilt for Sirius’s death beautifully. And those three paragraphs are missing from the movie. We never really encounter Harry’s guild over Sirius’s death and that is the entire emotional weight of his death.

And then after more guilt when Phineas asks Harry about Sirius, Dumbledore returns. He tells Harry that everyone (except Sirius) is okay and then says, “I know how you’re feeling Harry.”

Then we have the second thing that is missing from the film; Harry’s anger. Harry yells back at Dumbledore that there is no way for Dumbledore to know how Harry is feeling right now. Dumbledore pries trying to get Harry to talk about it, saying that it is human to feel this way. And then

“THEN – I – DON’T – WANT – TO – BE – HUMAN!” Harry roared, and he seized the delicate silver instrument from the spindlelegged table beside him and flung it across the room; it shattered into a hundred tiny pieces against the wall. Several of the pictures let out yells of anger and fright, and the portrait of Armando Dippet said, “Really!” 

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANY MORE” 

This is anger, and very cinematic anger at that. It lets the audience, the teenage audience at least, release all the pent up frustration that they have been feeling with Harry in this film. I think what makes me so angry about the omission of this scene is that it lends itself so well to cinema. 

The film would go like this rather than have the stupid montage they move into next. Dumbledore sticks a portkey in Harry’s hands which sends him back to the office. He stands there in silence for a few moments, we see his face, maybe a tightening fist. Then Dumbledore get back and starts talking, a bit awkwardly because he can see Harry’s frustration. Then harry grabs something breakable and when Dumbledore says that he knows how Harry feels, he lobs the item at Dumbledore screaming that no one can know how he feels. A bit more anger and screaming and then we get what they actually shot which is a perfectly calm dumbledore giving the explanation because above all else, Dumbledore knows that he was wrong, and feels as guilty as Harry does. This is necessary and is done so well in the book, that its omission from the film seems like robbery of emotional weight that we are owed in this story. 

This is why I hate the end of Order of the Phoenix. Even if there is a lot of redeeming qualities in the film, the audience is robbed of a scene that was omitted for no good reason considering how cinematic a scene it is. And the film is far worse off because of it.