Bare with me please, Saturday night dram post.

Analysis of female characters in Disney’s Mulan II and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I’m coming back with my cartoon vibe again this week, please grim readers bear with me as I am so overwhelmed by midterms that this post is gonna be just like a Saturday night dram. Short but intense.

I have been exploring Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility during these past three weeks, and suddenly a connection with pop culture popped (yes, I did it on purpose) into my mind. I’m talking about the female characters in Disney’s Mulan 2 .

Before I go on, I think I should provide some background info on Sense and Sensibility for you. This novel is one of Jane Austen’s early works, published in 1811, and deals with the monetary and sentimental problems of the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who are radically different. Elinor is rational and limiting of her emotional outpourings, while Marianne is more dramatically romantic and gets carried away by her emotions. At the end of the day, one of the most important themes of the novel is the dichotomy between brain and heart, and the difficulty of finding a balance, as the excess in one or the other thing leads to pain.

In the same way, the princesses Mei, Su and Ting-Ting, parallel Mulan and Shang’s stories, all trapped in the conflict between rules and feelings, brain and heart.

You might ask me, what’s the dark part? Well, I think that arranged marriages are pretty dark, and very lame for the poor girls who underwent this practice, no matter the reasons. The theme of marriage is kinda a touchy matter in both of the artistic products. In Sense and Sensibility, since I don’t really wanna spoil you the story, I will just say that the dynamics which create the plot between the characters are built in such a way that at the end of the story we, as readers, can notice that to win in life according to Austen, we should find the right balance between money and love. Remember that in the 19th century marriage was conceived principally as a financial agreement, more than a passionate promise of eternal love.

In the same way, Mulan II rises again the issue of rights of women and men, alongside with identity and discrepancy between logic and emotional impulse. I would love to write something about the first movie as I think it is extremely relevant, but I if I do, it will definitely be in another post. Anyhow, going back to the story, the three princesses in the movie are bound to an arranged marriage with princes of a nearby kingdom whom they don’t even know. I mean, at all. And now the fierce, and maybe somewhat idealistically naive? Mulan steps in, telling one of the girls that the should now follow their duty, but stick to their heart’s will. (“I have another duty, to my heart”). This advice makes things a little more complicated as it foreshadows the fact that Mei, Su and Ting-Ting, will fall in love with guess who? The three nice guys from the first movie, Ling, Chien-Po, and Yao. In this setting frame, the movie develops rather interestingly around the themes of marriage, love, and it relationship with duty an logic.

Just as in Sense and Sensibility, Ting-Ting is the Elinor of the situation whereas Mei is the Marianne, and Mulan is also inclined towards that position. Shang instead is inhumanly rational and devoted to duty until Mulan spits in his face that they are too different and that she even wonders if he even has a heart. The vicissitudes and shocking events in the plot of both the novel and the movie give the final balance to the plot, which then settles with he traditional happy ending: marriage.

Cheers, grim readers!

“Are these monsters gonna kill me?” “Not as long as they think you’re a monster.”

Hotel Transylvania and Monster Literature.

I was wandering in Rome a couple of days ago, and I could not help recognizing posters of the new Dreamworks 3d animation movie “Hotel Transylvania 2”. Captain Obvious says “Guess what? It’s a story about monsters.” Apart from the obvious Dracula reference, the film is more bound to literary work than what I thought.

There is a sub-branch Gothic and Horror called Monster Literature which permeated so well in popular culture to allow monsters to be chosen as protagonists of a kid’s movie. Scholars have investigated the matter, and have produced a bunch of very cool responses.
Patricia Donovan wrote on University at Buffalo’s site that “professor Schmid says the concept of ‘monster’ has been used in many historical, geographical and ideological contexts to dismiss and demonize that which is considered marginal, deviant and abject” and that doctoral student John Edgar Browning added that “Definitions of the monster […] change over time and with each generation”. That’s why, for example, from post-WW2 literature, monsters (“the other) is not a supernatural creature anymore, but humans instead (the Shining, 1984, contemporary TV series’ plots as Dexter)

At this point, one might ask “why do we love these things? Why are they so popular?” Well, professor Castillo knows the answer, and encloses it in a creepy but effective metaphor: ““The door ajar proves irresistibly dangerous; it frightens us while simultaneously awakening our curiosity about the lurking monsters that might inhabit the other side and their ‘excessive enjoyment'”. In “Unmasking the Monster: The New Erotic Identity of the Monster in Contemporary Literature” Christopher Stabile asserts that ” The image of the monster has shifted radically from an archetype that inspires fear and enforces social norms to a malleable exotic other who elicits desire and longing” as Western society underwent a transformation in society from more interdependent relationships between people because of less resources (like, the “asking a cup of sugar to my neighbor” thing, both from a material than moral and spiritual point of view), o a more individualist approach “seeking not merely self-benefit, but luxury and excess”.

In Justin Edwards and Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet’s book “The Gothic in Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture: Pop Goth” a very interesting statement comes up. While analyzing about Lady Gaga’s (Mother Monster, you know) performances the two authors stated:

“Her evocation of monstrosity as recuperable, as potentially
familiar and domesticated is part of a larger trend in contemporary popular culture to ‘de-monster’ the monster. That is, monsters in pop culture at the end of the twentieth and beginning of he twenty-fist centuries are sill recognizably linked to their previous, horrific and liminal incarnations bu their symbolic resonances have shifted. Monsters in contemporary culture embody difference diferenly from their predecessors. Historically, monsters were irretrievably “other”, hey were “embodied horror” (Halberstam Skin 2) and threatened the culture from which they arose.[…] These figures still contain some of the symbolic significance of their earlier representations -vampires sill, horrifically, need blood to survive and can still become inhumanly violent- but overall, their position in contemporary narratives is as a misunderstood outsider who is, after all, not that different from those ‘non-monsters’ around them”.

That’s the crucial point. Monsters as the creatures which used to scare to death damsels in stately homes of the 18th-19th centuries are now seen as outcasts and they are “de-monstered” producing sympathetic responses by the audiences hat face them in pop culture products.

Interestingly, Hotel Transylvania’s script follows the same characteristics of a standard piece of monster literature, and adds new elements to it. Let’s explore the main features together:

Duality: Believe it or not, the majority of monsters do have a Gollum problem. They are often portrayed with a double personality (since they are not people, should I say monsterality? Okay, excuse me for my monstrous pun. Sorry again, I can’t stop) which affects the almost nonexistent number of people around them and themselves. In Hotel Transylvania all of the monsters have a wild side, for example Frankenstein’s fear for fire (he keeps saying “Fire.. bad..”), and Dracula’s angry moments, which are kinda hilarious in my opinion but which actually represent a more instinctive part of them.

Isolation, Loneliness: Big deal, monsters are not social butterflies. Just think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or also the more recent The Shining, they were not very hey-let’s-go-out guys. As the monstrous creatures embody ‘the other’, they are marginalized beings, both by society and by themselves, as their behavior follows a completely different path than the rest of the characters of the story. That is why the settings are usually greatly isolated, with almost no social interactions. In Hotel Transylvania, that’s kinda the same thing. Monsters we hidden to human eyes and the only place where they can live happily and express themselves in without restraints is the Hotel Dracula has built for them, in a protected area inaccessible for humans.

Science: I think that in the movie these last three features intertwine. In lit, monsters are frequently “creatures”, “created” by humans who usually are doctors or scientists -who most of the times do not enjoy the happy ending-, but the interesting and new thing about Hotel Transylvania is that the traditional monsters are “de-monstered” by making them treat humans as they were the monsters themselves, the beings which will undermine their tranquillity, their society. Indeed, the outcast and “antagonist” is really the little “Frankenhomie” a random guy who finds the Hotel by chance and pretends to be a monster not to create panic in the guests of the hotel. Besides, this movie shows a point of view which is internal to the creepy world of monsters, and the story is told in such a way that monsters just behave like humans, with heir quirks and flaws, as well as their strengths and pains.
Definitely, in Dracula’s presentation about the human world we can see a concealed interesting critique about contemporary -human- society, examined as a strange species.

Below, you have the full movie, and if you want to see what I’m talking about, jump to minute 9:20 to minute 10:00.

Cheers, grim readers!

Then Fall, Snow. [Pun intended]

HEY HEY! GAME OF THRONES SPOILER WARNING. READ AT YOUR PERIL.
Similarities between Game of Thrones Season five’s finale and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

“Et tu, Brute?” Those are Caesar’s famous last words in Shakespeare’s play, guess what? Julius Caesar. “Olly” is Jon Snow’s in episode 5×10 of Game of Thrones. Indeed, they both refer to a friend whom has betrayed them This is one of the many connections I’ve spotted between this last scene in the famous TV series and the Shakespearean tragedy, brace yourselves (I know you’re doing it for real.)
I’m not going to also take the Game of Thrones books into consideration, as it would be better to explore them in a dedicated post. I’m just going to focus on the TV series. The background info that you might wanna know is that Julius Caesar is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare presumably in 1599, following the historical events which developed around Julius Caesar’s figure. On the other hand, Game of Thrones is an HBO TV series based on G.R.R Martin’s epic fantasy saga “A song of ice and fire” first published in 1996.

Now, back to the story. The most important link I found between the tragedy and the GOT episode is, indeed, the resemblance between Jon and Caesar’s deaths. They both got stabbed repeatedly. Fun fact: Romans loved stabbing. Caesar was not the only emperor who was stabbed to death, it also happened to Caligula, Domitian and Julius Nepos, as Josh Fruhlinger in his listacle Roman Emperors, Up To AD 476 And Not Including Usurpers, In Order Of How Hardcore Their Deaths Were. wrote. We also know very well how much Martin, and showrunners Benioff and Weiss like bloody deaths, so we should have expected such a reference to the “Roman way” in a season finale as 5×10.

The reason why our heroes were assassinated is also pretty strikingly similar. The conspiration against Caesar was organized because of the “greater good”, which was liberating Rome by the possible tyranny that Ceasar would have established if he had decided to accept the crown. Moreover, Shakespeare makes it clear that Brutus decides to kill Caesar, after a long inner conflict, out of love for Rome and its Republic despite Julius being a close friend to our Brutus. In Game of Thrones however, Jon Snow –who holds a position of command in the Night’s Watch- is stabbed by his own brothers –just as Caesar by his own fellow-politicians- because they were convinced that the alliance with the Wildlings against the White Walkers could have damaged all of the Seven Kingdoms, and not to mention, the Order itself. (If you got lost in this brief GOT context, go check the Wikipedia page up in the post). For this Reason, right before hitting Jon the first time, first ranger Alliser Thorne, and all his friends with him say “For the watch”. Here you can watch the famous scene, hold your tears, I know it will be hard.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE SCENE.

As you may have noticed, Jon is led outside his lodging with an excuse –his beloved uncle Benjen came back from the terrible north of the Wall safe and sound- and so is Caesar. His conspirators let him to the Capitol telling him that he had to examine Metellus’s case who is pleading for his banished brother Publius. In this moment, as Julius explains how wise and resolute he his, the conspirators manage to put themselves in killing position, and surround Caesar, stabbing him. You can read the whole action from Act 3, scene 1..

Metellus Cimber. Is there no voice more worthy than my own
To sound more sweetly in great Caesar’s ear
For the repealing of my banish’d brother? 1255

Brutus. I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar;
Desiring thee that Publius Cimber may
Have an immediate freedom of repeal.

Caesar. What, Brutus!

Cassius. Pardon, Caesar; Caesar, pardon: 1260
As low as to thy foot doth Cassius fall,
To beg enfranchisement for Publius Cimber.

Cassius. I could be well moved, if I were as you:
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star, 1265
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks,
They are all fire and every one doth shine,
But there’s but one in all doth hold his place: 1270
So in the world; ’tis furnish’d well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and that I am he, 1275
Let me a little show it, even in this;
That I was constant Cimber should be banish’d,
And constant do remain to keep him so.

Cinna. O Caesar,—

Caesar. Hence! wilt thou lift up Olympus? 1280

Decius Brutus. Great Caesar,—

Caesar. Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?

Casca. Speak, hands for me!
[CASCA first, then the other Conspirators and
BRUTUS stab CAESAR] 1285

Caesar. Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar.

Dies

Impressive, isn’t it? Shakespearean tragedies are really full of blood and intrigues, just as Game of Thrones is. And as Cersei Lannister affirmed in Season 1 “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Well, I’m afraid Jon and Caesar lost their jackpot.

Cheers, grim readers!

Lou Ree(a)d’s Edgar Allan Poe.

© Fantagraphic Books, Inc.
Lou Reed’s Listening Experience Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s work

“These are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, not exactly the boy next door.” This is how Lou Reed opened “The Raven”, his nineteenth solo album. Accurate, isn’t it? I’ll get back to this later in the post. I decided to call it ‘listening experience’ because “The Raven” really engages the audience intellectually, hauling it in Edgar Allan Poe’s -and maybe in Lou Reed’s and, ultimately, the human- dark world. Let me tell you, it is not an easy listening, but indeed no less pleasant, in my opinion.

What we have here is a concept album completely inspired by the American nineteenth century writer Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works, with blues, rock’n’roll, new age and proto-punk vibes. Moreover, some tracks are only instrumental, whereas several others spoken, the lyrics read by very famous actors (Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe and Elizabeth Ashley, for example). As Adam Begley from Observer.com wrote “Reed Does Postmodern Poe”. And he definitely nailed it! Reed, in fact, re-wrote his own contemporary version of “The Raven”,which he has read in Cannes in 2013, “The Valley Of Unrest”, and a personal version of the famous story “The Pit and the Pendulum” among the others. You can read the respective original versions here, here, and here.

One of the tracks which really struck my attention was Annabel Lee. It is identical to the original version apart from a very touching intro to it which I included here:

“Let the burial rite begin
The funeral song be sung
An anthem for the queenliest dead
That ever died so young

Sweet Lenore has gone before
Taking hope that flew beside
Leaving instead the wild dead child
That should have been your bride.”

That’s an example of how dark Reed’s lyrics can be, and that’s not all.
Talking of intros, I identified a massive one at the very beginning of the record, made of four tracks: “The Conqueror Worm”,Ouverture,Old Poe and Edgar Allan Poe. It just seems like the first three songs descrive the development of Poe’s life, from youth to old age, until Reed’s voice gets stronger and stronger in Edgar Allan Poe, who ironically is “not exactly the boy nexy door” as the poet, as much as the singer has done, investigates and plays with the human psyche. The music too is surprisingly in contrast with the mood and themes of the album, with an unexpected kinda positive attitude, which makes this track as a way for Reed of becoming a TV host, presenting his special guest. There you go:

It would be frankly impossible to cover thoroughly the album and Reed’s affinity with Poe, and I will definitely write again about it. Let me know if you liked the album, or why do you think Reed has decided not to create a modern version of Annabel Lee. Watch out tonight, there might be a Raven cawing at your window.

Cheers!

Vampires are the most poetic monsters

Islamic mysticism in Dracula Untold

How many times have you been at the movies and watched a film based on a novel? Many, I suppose.

Nowadays it’s really common to show a literary work in a more glamourous way though a movie. Aaand, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is no exception. The famous gothic novel written in 1897 has been adapted countless times, and not only cinematographically but also in many other forms of art, and I’ll definitely go through this in other posts, since I’m very fond of this book.

What I’m focusing on today is Gary Shore’s Dracula Untold (2014), which apart from being the latest movie adaptation of the novel, also includes a very fascinating poem, “Look at love” by the Persian Muslim poet and mystic Rumi.

This specific part of the poem is cited in a couple of scenes, and it is interesting how this literary work of Muslim mysticism is integrated in the plot, which for the most part is set in Transylvania.

“Why think separately
Of this life and the next
When one is born from the last”

And here you go, the last scene, in which the protagonist has survived from the fifteenth century until the present day and finds a woman who remembers him of his departed spouse. He manages to connect with her thanks to the poem itself, which was part of their wedding vows.

You can read the whole poem here. Indeed, if you look at it from beginning to end, contrarily to how it is presented in the movie, the poem is not only a celebration of love, but also of harmony and spiritual connection to nature.

What do you think of the movie, or the poem? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section here.

Cheers!