Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven


Morton Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) is a retired professor of political science, a father of three, and an ex-husband. He’s also actually a woman, Maura.

How Maura’s dysfunctional family (understatement warning) is going to take this news is anyone’s guess, but after knowing for years she’s finally ready to make the announcement and begin being true to herself 24/7.

About this family. Oy. They are so Jewish. In the most realistic way, which isn’t something audiences get to see on television very often so that alone was refreshing. Also, the characters are very real, meaning they’re not all that likable. (This has nothing to do with them being Jewish and everything with them being like actual human beings with actual human feelings and unattractive traits.)

There’s the eldest daughter, Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker). Her marriage is in trouble (understatement) and she gets involved with an ex who happens to be a woman ( Melora Hardin who played Jan Levinson on the US version of The Office and the transformation blows my mind.) [That character is unlikable, as well. Everyone is obnoxious on this show, but I couldn’t stop watching.] Those two getting together wrecks two households but also kicks off Maura’s coming out process albeit unintentionally.

Then there’s the only son, Josh, who has a  lot of sex on this show. I don’t know what he’s looking for–new sex or new love or both or something else, but he’s doing his level best in trying to find it. Or trying to wreck his life. Perhaps that’s what he’s trying to do.

The third child is Ali, Gaby Hoffman, unable to settle on anything in life, perpetually jobless and dependent on Morton/Maura for money, Ali is also trying to work out who and what she is.

The matriarch of this bunch is the ever luminous Judith Light, who can do no wrong. She plays Shelly, Maura’s ex, and she’s remarried to a man named Ed with whom she lives in a retirement community. He’s lost the ability to speak by the time we meet him, he’s still quite the personality.

There are lots of flashbacks to the 90s when Morton was just becoming Maura, so we get to see her first, tentative steps into finding her true self. Her guide is a cross-dresser named Marcy (Bradley Whitford). It’s Whitford like you’ve never seen him before and it’s  amazing .

The show was created by Jill Soloway and was based on her own father’s coming out as transgender. Soloway also directed.

Everything about Transparent is excellent. Every character is fully-realised. The writing is top-notch and the actors are on top of their game. There’s humour and pathos and pain and joy. And every kind of sex you can imagine. No really.

This show is a must watch. 5/5


Concussion (film)

by V. L. Craven


Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) is in a solid but boring relationship with Kate Ableman (Julie Fain Lawrence), with whom she has two children. After receiving a mild concussion–when her son hits her with a baseball–she begins to reevaluate her life and realises her life of domestic bliss may not be as blissful as she originally thought.

Kate is happy with their life and seemingly gives Abby permission to ‘go breathe’ and Abby does so in the form of hiring a lesbian prostitute. She meets this person through her business partner, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), whose ex-girlfriend runs an escort ring. Said prostitute says Abby could make her own money with women ‘who want an older experience.’

And she’s off and running. In a lying down and naked sort of way.

Some experiences are good, some are…not. And then one of her appointments is with a woman from her town (she’s been meeting people in Manhattan). The woman is straight and Abby has found her attractive for some time. Complications arise and clothes come off.

The Red Band trailer which is entirely NSFW:

There are some problems with this film. More than a few, yes. The trailer isn’t accurate. Well, yes, there’s quite a bit of sexy lady time, which is really well handled. That probably had something to do with Rose Troche’s involvement, who co-wrote and directed Go Fish and was a writer and director of three seasons of The L Word.

Weigert does an outstanding job, as do all of the actresses. Janel Moloney (who played Donna on The West Wing) is a secondary character and does a great job as pseudo-therapist, but that couple needed a real therapist. And Emily Kinney did what she could with what she was given in her role as The Girl (the runner of the prostitution ring). Apropos of nothing–she looked so much like Luna Lovegood it was distracting. Or as a friend said Luna LoveREALgood.

Tchaikovsky is particularly excellent as Justin, Abby’s business partner–they buy ‘shitholes’, fix them up and flip them.

The problems are with the script. While there are some excellent moments and laugh out loud lines (that are intentionally amusing) there are plot points that don’t hang together. It’s never clear how the titular concussion affects Ableman’s decision to become a prostitute–I was extrapolating earlier–which is something of an issue.

Then there’s the ending, which will depend on how the viewer feels about unresolved endings . It’s unclear where the plot is going and it certainly doesn’t go where the average cinema-goer will expect. In a way it’s realistic, which isn’t typical of American-made films. But nothing about Concussion is typical of American-made films, so that’s par for the course.

If you’re interested in dramas about the emotional lives of women that doesn’t treat females over forty like sexless eunuchs then this one is for you. But for god sake, don’t watch it with your parents. 4/5


Depression, Misogyny and Albus Dumbledore

by V. L. Craven

People like being bummed. It’s the only guess I have for why my really depressing posts get the most traffic. That can’t be right, though…

Anyway, I’ve been reading more of the Cerebus series by Dave Sim. I’ve done Church and State I & II , Melmoth , and Flights . I’ve also given myself something of a coronary in reading he’s diatribe about feminism, homosexuality and race tangents

Well, the first two parts of it. I had to take a break there. If you get through all of it, let me know what you think.

I’m enjoying Cerebus on the whole and I agree with Sim on some of his assertions about certain portions of feminism (I just wish he wouldn’t paint all women with the same brush). And I find that RS Stephen sums up how I feel much better than I do in her essay “Masculinity’s Last Hope, or, Creepily Paranoid Misogynist”. This bit in particular: “Despite the fact that you champion reason, your writing lacks the factual and intellectual rigor required by even an undergrad English essay, and your arguments aren’t all that logical.”

Melmoth is in interlude about Oscar Wilde, of all people, and is incredibly well-rendered.

As the storyline of Cerebus goes along it gets more complex and interesting, which is only to be expected, and even knowing that he and I wouldn’t be able to have an intellectual discussion over dinner doesn’t ruin that, though it does alter my reading of the text somewhat. It’s a train wreck situation. Where you wish you didn’t know it existed, but once you do, you just have to look. I simply had to know how he felt about women. So I read Tangents. And it altered the way I read his work.

This brings me to something else that’s in the literary news lately–J.K. Rowling commenting off-handedly that Dumbledore is gay. (If you don’t know who J.K. Rowling or Dumbledore are, please return to your rock for the rest of this post.)

Since she outed him there’s been several sides to the conversation. The two most predictable are: ‘What a big pedo! That’s why he liked Harry so much!’ and ‘She should have said it explicitly, Dumbledore was in the closet!!!’

Does knowing he was always gay change the way a person would read the books now? It shouldn’t, as it has no bearing on the majority of the books. But it will to some people. The people who only see the word ‘gay’, no matter if it’s in front of “the gay man who cured cancer”. In The Celluloid Closet Quentin Crisp said, “When you say heterosexual, people focus on the ‘hetero’ but when you say, ‘homosexual’, people focus on the sex.”

I’m a lesbian and a writer and I fully understand why Rowling handled the character as she did. A writer knows all sorts of things about her characters that she doesn’t tell the audience because it’s not pertinent to the story. It wouldn’t have made one bit of difference if Albus (I can call him that because we ride the same bus) had been explicitly gay or not. Who he loved didn’t matter much in terms of the story. And in a kids’ book, what is he supposed to say? If Rowling wanted to be sure everyone knew, at what point was Albus supposed to say he wanted to make the buttsecks with Grindelwald? You don’t address sex in kids’ books in that way. He said he loved Grindelwald. How much more do you want?

At the same time, she handled it beautifully. She said (when the revelation occurred in Carnagie Hall in New York) that if she’d known it would’ve made everyone so happy she would have told them sooner. The way to de-demonize homosexuality is to let people like the gay person first and then say, “Ta-da! I was a big ol’ queer the whole time!” It’s like Suzanne Westenhoefer, a marginally known but always out, lesbian comedienne and Ellen DeGeneres, a closeted until popular comedienne. Now she’s everywhere with her partner and people are cool with it. Sometimes you have to sneak under the radar before you can throw off the invisibility cloak.

[This post is from a previous blog. Original post date: 24 October 2007]


Puccini for Beginners

by V. L. Craven

I watched Puccini for Beginners at the weekend and it was a fun enough romp. New York was shot beautifully and the actors did a better job than what I was expecting–I don’t have high hopes for most lesbian-themed films, as they usually don’t have great budgets. Gretchen Mol was nice (this is the first thing I’ve seen her in–is it just me or does she look exactly like Kate Hudson?) as were the other two leads, Elizabeth Reaser and Justin Kirk.

The premise is a commitment-phobic lesbian (Reaser) is dumped by her heterosexual girlfriend (a Molly Parker look-a-like named Julianne Nicholson) and falls into bed with a man (Kirk). They have a relationship of sorts and have a rather ridiculous conversation about the differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals philosophies towards relationships. The friends of the lesbian-dating-a-man are two dimensional, but the actresses (Jennifer Dundas and Ute Lemper’s twin Tina Benko) do their best. And I know it seems like I’m saying everyone in this film looks like someone else, but that’s bound to happen, really. There are only so many ‘attractive’ faces in the world and a good number of them are on the screen–some of them are bound to resemble one another.

The thing about the film that’s stuck with me longest was the pronunciation of “Turandot” by Reaser within the first five minutes of the film. She pronounced it: TUR-in-dot. I thought it was a French name and therefore the ‘t’ would be silent. So I looked it up and the final answer is: Yay, I’m right. According to Puccini scholar Patrick Vincent Casali, Puccini never pronounced the ‘t’. Which totally kills the illusion that the character was supposed to be such an opera buff. Oh well. At least I learned something.

[Repost from now-defunct blog. Original post date: August 7, 2007]


“The Fox” by DH Lawrence

by V. L. Craven

This is my first D.H. Lawrence and while it was interesting and quite well written, I wonder about Lawrence’s feelings about women as people. He admitted loving men romantically, if not sexually, but that doesn’t preclude him thinking women were lost without men.

The story is about two women trying to run a small farm in England after the First World War. They obviously love one another dearly. A young soldier shows up and seemingly gleefully tears their world apart. One of the women seems quite glad to no longer have to be with a woman for reasons that come across as being quite misogynistic, though Lawrence could have simply been sticking to the beliefs of the day. The final few pages didn’t seem to hold with the rest of the book, which made me wonder if it ended differently originally but someone made him change the end.

I do want to read more of Lawrence’s work, but would prefer something that didn’t leave me making a baroo face (that’s the face dogs make when they heard something high pitched or curious–that head tilt).


Inseparable by Emma Donoghue

by V. L. Craven

The title pretty much says it all–Inseparable focuses on relationships (both lesbian and platonic) throughout the history of literature. It’s quite good and exhaustive enough to exhaust the reader–a bit too academic for a general audience but a must have for women’s or lesbian studies.

Some quotes:

[0063] INSEPARABLE by Emma Donoghue 4s English|Non-Fiction|Women’s Studies|Lesbian [22.09.10]
-001- It was perceived by the servants of the House that some secret bond of connection existed between Miss Aldclyffe and her companion. But they were woman and woman, not woman and man, the facts were ethereal and refined, and so they could not be worked into a taking story. –from Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (1871)

-002- Often such critics protest that it would be anachronistic for us to find lesbian themes in a text whose writers and first readers would have seen none.  … Why would playwrights construct so many homoerotic scenarios in dramatic form if they had no expectation that their audience would understand them?

-003- Endings are overrated; they are often the point where the writer bows to convention…I know that my liking for a character is shown bymy giving her a lot of page time and vivid scenes, however I may dispose of her by the end.

-004- they are more interested in the charming scenario of a pair of girls whose bond emerges naturally from their similarity and mutual familiarity. The girls are either known as growing up together or as being “kindred spirits” who fall in love at first meeting. Because of their likeness in age and background, they can act as mirrors to each other, although events will often reveal their characters as contrasting.

-005- _inseparable_ was a common term for female pairs by the late sixteenth century

-006- Mistresses of all a universe we shall be; through our alliance I feel we shall become the superiors of Nature herself. Oh, dear Durand, he crimes we are going to commit! The infamies we are going to achieve!  [EPIGRAPH?| — Marquis de Sade _Juliette_

-007- A secret alliance of two beings who understand one another because they’re alike… –Edourad Boudret _La Prisonniere_

-008- It was _to love_ I yearned more than to _be loved_, and I was entirely free from sexual instincts. — Christopher St John, Hungerheart: The Story of a Soul (1896)

-009- You’re neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you’re as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else, only you’re unexplained as yet–you’ve not got your niche in creation. But some day that will come and meanwhile don’t shrink from yourself, but just face yourself calmly and bravely.

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