Monday, February 01, 2010

twilight zone

I just saw the movie Twilight on cable. It's not as bad as critics or haters of runaway successes would have you believe. It's not great, either, but it was very watchable. And almost classic, in some ways. As I watched it, I was waiting for a scene or scenes that I might want to shield my daughter from (who was already tucked into bed), but there really weren't many. There were a few scenes of menace, and she would have found the penultimate fight scene scary, but she could see it in a few years (or tomorrow, with her eyes covered until given the all-clear, as I used to watch monster movies with my dad). Mostly it was pure fairytale. I haven't read the book(s), but have notice and liked the bold cover graphics, the illustrated forbidden fruit referencing remembered childhood fairytales.

What is interesting to me about this "vampire fad" is not the romantic or even sexual aspect of the stories, which, unless you were completely asleep, were always there. It's that vampires are just a device to tell the fairytale story. Twilight's lead vampire, Edward Cullen, is part handsome prince, part sleeping beauty. Bella, the heroine, awakens him from his slumber, and lets love into his life. The fact that they can't consummate their love (he might lose control and vamp out) may be frustrating for moviegoers, but completely in-sync with the chaste kiss that culminates most Cinderella, Snow White, etc. stories. Little girls love to swoon and imagine all things romantic, but are slower to actually want to let things get real. Pretty kid-appropriate, apart from the vampire angle. With a female heroine who drives the paper-thin story, no wonder girls are flocking to this tale. Much like their re-christening of Aladdin "Jasmine," Twilight is another princess story, just not by Disney.

After finding movie vampires attractive since my childhood—Francis Lederer in The Return of Dracula was exotic and sexy (I hadn't seen Bela yet), Frank Langella in my teens made becoming a vampire an option worth considering (and made me read the original novel by Bram Stoker), and Gary Oldman—well, he was creepy and Gary and sexy all at the same time—he made Coppola's over-the-top mix of genius design and embarrassing acting worth watching—a vampire romance seems pretty par for the course. Not to mention my love of all things Angel and the inimitable Spike.

Edward may be a de-fanged vampire, but his blatant channeling of James Dean, the ultimate inscrutable, frustrating, and oh-so-attractive movie male and teen icon is dead-on and absolutely appropriate for this demon without a cause. Dean died tragically young and will always represent teen angst. Edward died at seventeen and has been pent up and frustrated pretty much ever since. He may represent the ultimate teen dreamboat/horny boyfriend. Angel & Spike may have been juvenile at times, but were men for the most part, trying to find their way in the world of good or evil, depending on which show, which season, you were watching. Edward and Bella's romance is not only this generation's vamp couple, but may speak more directly to a teen sensibility. Buffy was set in high school, but was more sophisticated, adult in tone. Buffy didn't have the luxury of living a fairy tale. She was in a monster movie from the get-go. What if Angel had attended Sunnydale High? It would have been a much different story. Edward seems to want to go to school. live in the world. He's even sort of a science geek. He's that weird but attractive guy with the family problems that no one wants to talk to. You know he's trouble, but . . .

For folks who would argue that Edward's fascination with Bella is creepy, stalker-like—are you that disconnected from teen romance? Obsession is the name of the game. What about how Edward's attraction to Bella is directly linked to his thirst for her blood? Hello, pheromones. But he's a blood-drinking monster—killer of little bunnies and Bambis (he and his vamp family consider themselves vegetarians). Well, to reference Some Like it Hot, nobody's perfect. Most fairy tales are creepy. Cinderella was treated as slave labor by her family. Snow White's step-mother was constantly trying to murder her because she was jealous of her beauty. Sleeping Beauty falls in love with the first guy she kisses (even sees.) These are not role models. But they are classic stories that feature girls and women and magic and fantasy. Children need make-believe, and stories where the boy is always the hero are all too common. Some may find Bella's obsession with Edward dangerous and inexplicable. Sort of like love. Can love ever be explained rationally? Should it? Is she losing herself in him, is she making bad choices? Probably. Is it entertaining to watch? Definitely.


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