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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Twilight

I’m still embarrassed forty years later over being one of those screaming pre-pubescent girls who ran home from school every day after school to breathlessly watch every single episode of the vampire-infested soap opera “Dark Shadows,” which ran on ABC daily from 1967 through 1971. Oh my god, how titillating and sensual it all seemed to a nine, ten, eleven and so on year old blossoming libido. The show’s anti-protagonist, the 200+ year old vampire Barnabas Collins lurked about the mythical town of Collinsport, Maine and yearned longingly for his lost love, Josette Dupreé, who had thrown herself off a cliff back in 1897 after discovering that the evil witch Angelique had turned her fiancé, Barnabas, into one of the bloodsucking undead. Well, who wouldn’t? Back then people didn’t have the options they do today. It’s not like she could vent her feelings by slapping a “Sh*t Happens” bumper sticker on her car. Besides, without tv to entertain the masses, the masses had to create their own drama, so a suicide now and again mixed in with a vampire plague kept the townspeople chatty.

The scariest part of “Dark Shadows” was the Friday cliffhangers that left my unsophisticated
imagination reeling all weekend as I fretted over what dire happenstance might befall my favorite characters on Monday’s episode, though nothing ever did. Now I realize the scariest thing has to have been the wretched acting, either that or the awful “not-so-special-effects” that permeated the series. It’s amazing what the distance of age and the exposure to other forms of entertainment can do bring on waves of embarrassment when nostalgia comes into play.

I recall that during its heyday, “Dark Shadows” spawned two big screen film adaptations (House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows) and turned the show’s star, Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, into a phenomenon like a rock star. Even though he was not exactly a looker or a young buck (he was forty three when he first donned his fangs and cape), girls, teens, and full-grown women screamed when they saw him like he was the biggest VIP of all time. Fans camped outside of the studio to get his autograph and his personal appearances required massive security. How sad then, that twenty-some years later when I was working near Gramercy Park in Manhattan
, as I went for coffee with my assistant one late afternoon at a deli across from our office, I spotted my former idol sitting alone near the window, apparently unrecognized by anyone but me. He appeared disheveled, dressed in a shabby sweater and old cords. His hair was much grayer, and he wore an expression on his face that actually touched my hard-as-rock heart. He looked resigned. You know that sad stare. Old people in nursing homes have it. George Bush has it. Cattle at a slaughterhouse have it. So did Mr. Frid. He seemed as if he had been abandoned and forgotten. I was so glad. I meant I could sweep all those shameful memories of childhood adoration under the rug and never feel guilty about them again. If the world had forgotten Frid, then I guess maybe nobody was still holding me accountable for my childhood stupidity.

I have wondered a lot about the girls and middle-aged women I’ve seen on the news and tabloid shows over the last week or so screaming their panties off in preparation of the release of the new vampire epic
Twilight. Okay, so I can understand the twelve and thirteen year olds. Been there and done that, but their moms? Eww. Don’t they have husbands or batteries that could entertain them at home? Instead they have been camping out, some for days, in front of theaters, just so they can be first to see the movie. Some of these girls have even gone so far as to scratch their own necks raw until they bled just so they could ask star Robert Pattinson for his autograph by having him dip a stick in their blood. So was it worth it? Probably to them (since they are obviously off their medication anyway), but for the rest of us, not so much.

think the charms of Twilight must lie on the written pages by Stephenie Meyer. Other than spelling her name oddly and being Mormon, I don’t know much about Ms. Meyer. I mention her being Mormon only because I don’t really think of Mormons as people who would write about vampires for some reason. I guess I figure Mormons would “tsk, tsk” about such “demonic” subjects and pray for anyone who suggested writing a book like Twilight, but perhaps Ms. Meyer is tithing enough now to change any of those outdated attitudes. Anyway, Twilight is the first of a four book series, and from what I have heard from my dear friend Marita, who works in the children’s section at Barnes and Noble, it is a fabulous seller and very well written. So, okay, I believe her. It has to explain all those panties in a bunch before the movie came out. I’m sure the readers will love this Twilight too, but I found it… long.

Twilight is less a vampire tale than about a girl’s first love, and herein is the problem. When tortured teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart; Jumper) comes to Forks, Washington to live with the father she barely knows after her mother and step-father leave Phoenix to hit the road for a nomadic life, Bella is miserable in her new school, her new environment, and surrounded by the gloomy skies and constant rain. Can there be much that is worse to see either on-screen or off than an unhappy seventeen year-old? Stewart either can’t act or does such a remarkable job it is beyond seamless, but whatever she does, she manages to make it through the entire film by cracking a smile only once, and I think it might have been a gas bubble in that particular scene. Poor Bella. So sad, so sad.

Even when Bella finds herself a boyfriend in the aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), she barely seems pleased. I mean, it is one thing to finally get a guy for the prom, but what a drag to figure out that he is dead, and he likes to drink blood. Amazingly, nobody else at school is savvy enough to notice how odd it is that Edward and his “siblings” are all pale as albinos and have lips the color of plums. Personally, I’d never want to date a guy that wore more make-up than I did, but this is a different generation, so I’ll give that a pass. Still, these kin make The Addams Family look like The Brady Bunch by comparison.

At least Edward is a put-up guy. He doesn’t stay in the coffin or closet when it comes to Bella. He coughs up the truth and they decide that even though their relationship may have its problems, they are still going to be together. Eddie promises not to drain her of her bodily fluids and Bella promises that after the prom she’ll drain him of his, if you get my meaning. Actually, I’m kidding. This is a ‘clean teen’ movie, so there’s no talk of sex in this gem. It’s strictly relationship material. That’s what makes it seem to drag on as long as this last election’s Presidential campaign. Director Catherine Hardwicke (The Nativity Story) fills the screen with long meaning(less)ful pauses lingering on shots of Edward and Bella pining in the tree-tops, Bella and Edward splendoring in the grass, Edward and Bella in his room, Bella and Edward in her room. You get the idea. I wanted to shout at the screen to get on with it, but I was afraid I’d be mauled by Twilight groupies and staked in the heart, so I sat quietly and ate my Goobers™ in silence and prayed for a quick death.

Amazingly, there is a story to all of this, even though it is skimpier than Jamie Lynn Spears’ musical talents. There’s a group of ‘bad’ vampires terrorizing folks in the area, led by a real psychopath (Cam Gigandet; Never Back Down) named James and his two friends, Laurent (Edi Gathegi; Gone Baby Gone) and Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre; Prom Wars). They don’t like the idea that the Cullen clan has taken a human into their family as one of their own since they consider human beings nothing more than food, so James has, for no particular reason, decided to make it a personal vendetta to kill Bella before he and the others move on to another town, as they were planning to do before meeting the Cullens.

Apparently James likes to play with his food because most of the last half of the film is spent with
Edward and James fighting over Bella. Personally, if I was Edward, I would have basted Bella with a little Tabasco and chives and dropped her off at the first corner I came to in town and called out a great big “Ciao!" So what if James is nearby and thinks I was announcing “Chow!” That’s life. Or death. Well, dinner, really.

It’s not that I’m not into romance, but these girls in the audience haven’t given this much real thought. Yeah, this is all hearts-and-flowers now, but if anybody really thought about it ~ really thought about it ~ they’d realize the only way this relationship is ever going to work out is if Edward turna Bella into a vampire, which is exactly what he is fighting to keep her from becoming. But if she doesn’t turn, what will become of them in twenty years? He’ll still be a delicious piece of jailbait at seventeen (going on one hundred and twenty) and she’ll look like her real-life thirty-seven? Okay, so the “cougar” thing may still pass muster then, but what about in thirty, or even forty years? Will love be
as grand for seventeen year-old Edward when his beloved Bella is in her late fifties and she looks like his grandmother? Yeah, she’ll end up alone, sitting in that same coffee shop where Jonathan Frid was wondering what happened to his millions of fans. Hopefully in that amount of time, all the girls who are Twilight aficionadas now will be wondering what in the world they were thinking about back in 2008. Of course, by then, their own daughters will no doubt have a bloodsucker of their own to fawn over. That’s the trouble with vampires. They may change their names, but you can never really kill ‘em off permanently.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's just sad about J. Frid, and sad that you couldn't wait to felt good about his apparent abandonment.
Dark Shadows still kicks it in my book. Watching it on dvd now, for the first time (too young for the original broadcast, it's cheesy alot of the time, sure, but it's good. Surprisingly good. And Mr. Frid was creepy as hell.