I’ve been watching a number of my favorite movies lately, in an attempt to get me out of the painful, bottom-out depression I’ve been having on and off for a few weeks. I know some of it is purely and simply what is called “con-drop”. This is matter of both physical and mental responses to being at a convention. Physically, particularly if it was an enjoyable time, you are essentially going from an endorphin high to your normal, every day life. This essentially means for however long you were at the convention, you are now going into endorphin withdrawal. Emotionally and mentally, besides the total exhaustion, you are also experiencing a sense of loss. Being at a convention – whether it is a fan-based convention or any other kind – essentially means you are interacting with people who are essentially JUST LIKE YOU.
It’s hard to go back to normal life when you have been immersed in that feeling of “belonging.” In fact, it becomes so difficult that people will often try to find ways to attend multiple conventions (even if they can’t afford it) or become involved in tangential experiences. By which I mean, hobbies or jobs that tend to allow a person to mix with either the same people or similar people. For example, locally there is a lot of cross-over between CONvergence and the Minnesota Renaissance Faire. Now, I’m not putting down people that are involved in both. In fact, I’m friends with quite a few people who are involved in both. And I was fairly well involved with the Bristol Renaissance Faire outside of Milwaukee for about 5 years in the early 90s. It’s simply the fact that many of the endorphins you experience at conventions can often be found on the renaissance circuit.
For myself, I can’t do it anymore. While I might be able to camp again (if I bring the right kind of gear that will allow me to have a good experience) I don’t have the ability to do so in the kind of camping most renfests have. And while some people sleep in their booths, I have some movement disabilities that make it unlikely either. And I don’t tend to attend them anymore either, because that’s a lot of endurance that I just don’t have.
So, back to the movies.
I’ve been watching “Penelope” (Dir. Mark Palansky, Summit Entertainment, 2006), “The Pirate Movie” (Dir. Ken Annakin, 20th Century Fox, 1982), and “Zorro, The Gay Blade” (Dir. Peter Medak, 20th Century Fox, 1981). What do all of these movies have in common? The lesson that a viewer is supposed to learn via these movies is to “BE YOURSELF!” It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you are or whether anyone else approves of you. The only thing that truely matters is what YOU think of yourself
Now, I’ll admit, some of the movies from my childhood, adolescence and early 20s have parts of them that make me cringe. “Blazing Saddles,” ( for example, has some satirical jokes that would be left on the cutting room floor now (like many of Mel Brooks other movies). Zorro, the Gay Blade also has some of those same kind of jokes (even though, again, it is a satire). However, they were ALSO valid social criticism (which, for the most part, is exactly what satire has been used for over the centuries).
Yes, even “Zorro, The Gay Blade” is a social criticism. As much as it looks like a simple comedy spoof of countless variants of the Zorro mythos, it also speaks strongly that heroes need not conform to any stereotype. The character of Ramon de la Vega, as an unabashedly and flamingly gay man replaces his oh-so-masculine/heterosexual brother, and brings his own twist to the storyline. And HUGE props for George Hamilton to be able to play BOTH roles with panache! But, then again, he’s always had a certain ability to go from being completely serious to completely over-the-top. Hollywood’s preference to make the supposed “dark and dangerous Latino lover” stereotype actually worked for him in many of his roles (yes, even the ones where he played an Italian). Yes, I’m perfectly well aware that he was a child of white-bread Americans, but his typically tanned form often got him roles as some form of Mediterranean male (Spanish, Italian, Greek, etc). Unlike Trump, with his unhealthy spray on/tanning bed skin, Hamilton’s famous tan was from sunbathing (though, how he got away with no skin cancer is beyond me).
“Penelope,” for me, is exactly the same kind of breaking of stereotypes, even if it is simply the Grimm’s fairy tale story of “The Princess and the Frog” with the genders switched. Her mother, an over-the-top stereotype of a mother who expects her child to conform to the kind of social norm that women have beem expected to embody, spends this girl’s entire life focused on only one thing: Finding the “prince” who will break the curse. But the curse is tricky. It specifically states that:
…And only when one of your own kind claims this daughter as their own, til death do they part, will the curse be broken! But, like any other good curse, what it means is not quite what it sounds like.
“The Pirate Movie,” is a bit more subtle in it’s variant on the theme of Be Yourself. It pretty much uses two different tropes – the cute-but-vulnerable Cinderella type for reality who becomes the badass bookworm in her dream. As much as I love this movie for it’s campy silliness, I would have liked to see a bit more development after she wakes up from the dream. The ending, to me, is far too simplistic and implies the girl essentially marries the guy for no other reason than he woke her from the dream.
Still, for all their campy style and sometimes obvious lesson, I love these movies. And, they help raise the spirits when the stupid hamster in my brain needs to get off the damned wheel.