Film

34 Reasons Why Re-Watching Ever After is Something You Absolutely Should Do This Week

Hi there — Emily here!

When I was 11, I had a videotape of Ever After which I must have watched fifty times over. It was a sparkly, feel-good, girl-power, romantic-comedy, fractured fairy tale. Pre-teen me found it utterly delightful.

When Ever After re-entered my life recently via my Netflix streaming queue, though, I was rather suspicious: there was just no way that this 1998 Drew Barrymore Cinderella story could live up to my rose-damask memories of it. It was extremely unlikely, I thought, that fairy-tale Renaissance France was as gorgeously whimsical and stately as I remembered it being. Luckily, a recent attempt to procrastinate on weekend homework led my re-watching it, and — to my continued delight — Ever After is a surprisingly glorious ‘90s rom com. I heartily recommend that you take some time this week to revel in the awesomeness of this clever, cheesy ‘90s movie about true love, high adventure, and the insidious evils of economic inequality.

Since I wanted to share my intense enjoyment of this film — and my ongoing development of complex and varied procrastination techniques — here are my reasons why you really must watch Ever After the next time you need to avoid productivity! (Spoilers are ahead, but it’s a seventeen-year-old rom com based on Cinderella. Chances are you’ve already seen it, or at least could guess the major story beats in advance.)

1. First off, the premise of Ever After is kind of fantastic. A royal Grande Dame summons the Brothers Grimm to meet with her because they got the Cinderella story wrong: Cinderella isn’t just the character of some fairy story, but rather was her great great grandmother, a woman called Danielle de Barbarac. Every film (with the possible exception of the eponymous Brothers Grimm) is automatically made 28% better by cameos from nineteenth-century folklorists.

2. Anyway, the Grande Dame contradicts the Brothers Grimm when they attempt to explain the nuances of the Cinderella fairy tale to her. She points out that, although the brothers have been told that the Cinderella story is a work of fiction, it is in fact a record of historical truth. This idea — that what we believe to be history isn’t necessarily all that actually happened, and that folklore records a history of women’s experiences which have been erased from the public annals of historical fact — works really nicely in conjunction with the film’s overarching feminist bent.

3. It also works in gorgeous counterpoint with one of the most fantastic moments of one of the great novels of the nineteenth-century: Jane Austen’s Persuasion. At the climax of Persuasion, our heroine Anne Elliot is arguing with a man about who tend to be truer and more faithful lovers: men or women. When the man says that literature and history provide countless examples that women are faithless and far more fickle, Anne — wonderfully — replies that that’s simply because men have had more benefit of education and literacy than have women. “I will not,” she says, “allow books to prove anything.” Austen’s wonderfully proto-feminist assertion of the erasure of women’s experiences from literate culture is echoed in this opening scene of Ever After, and we begin a wonderful story in which the Grande Dame tells the Brothers Grimm about Danielle, a servant girl who falls in love with a prince.

4. So who’s the main cast? Well we’ve got Drew Barrymore playing an Ella-of-Frell-esque fabulously feisty lady.

5. She’s a lady who throws apples at horse-thieves, puts herself in danger in order to save a servant who’s been indentured to go to the Americas, and — in proper ‘90s fashion — wears a whole lot of glittery make-up when she goes to the dance.

6. There’s also Dougray Scott, with the requisite haircut of attractive men in fantasy movies.

See??

7. Scott’s playing Prince Henry, a crown prince of France with a surprisingly Anglicized name. Henry’s rebelling against his parents and escaping out tower windows because he wants to see the world and marry for love, whereas his parents are trying to make a politically advantageous contract with the Spanish royalty. He’s very concerned that he won’t have the chance to find his “match,” and indeed expresses worry that if everyone only has one soulmate, what if he never finds his. His anxieties about marrying for love are all too charming, especially since my anecdotal survey of ‘90s rom coms would suggest that female characters voice those concerns far more frequently than do their male counterparts.

8. He’s melodramatic and emotional and very very pretty.

9. There’s also a wonderfully charming Melanie Lynskey, only four years after her performance in Heavenly Creatures.

Melanie_Lynskey

10. Melanie Lynskey’s character ends up going to a masquerade ball with a huge horse headdress on.

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11. At the ball, she then gets into the most adorable flirtation with the prince’s captain of the guard, who is also, fortuitously enough, dressed as a horse.

Cptn of Guard Ever

12. They whinny at each other.

13. There’s really not too much to her character’s story, but it’s adorable.

Melanie and Cptn

14. Also, Angelica Huston plays the Baroness Rodmilla, a down-on-her-luck noble lady who marries Danielle’s merchant father shortly before he dies. Huston’s got the evil stepmother aesthetic down perfectly. And Holy Catherine de Medici does she have mad eyebrow game.

15. Basically, Danielle is a well educated, socially conscious, nouveau riche girl in sixteenth-century France who — in line with the traditional story — is forced by her stepmother to become a servant.

16. Meanwhile, Henry is a French prince who is far more enthralled with the idea of marrying for love than a Renaissance crown prince has any right to be.

17. Indeed, Henry seems to not realize that he’s not a Romantic poet. Not only does he sulk about not getting to marry for love, but we first meet him escaping from his tower bedroom in the middle of the night from a rope made of bedsheets.

18. Also, there’s a point in which he invites Danielle to the church ruins where he likes to sit and be alone by himself. He’s kind of adorably nineteenth-century, and my (not so) inner English lit fangirl thinks that he’d be good friends with Wordsworth and Keats if only fairy-tale France had time-travel capabilities.

Tintern Henry

19. Danielle catches Henry’s eye when she starts quoting Thomas More’s Utopia at him. He actually strikes up a flirtation by explaining that “anyone who can quote Thomas More is well worth the effort.”

20. Let me say that again: Danielle and Henry first start falling in love over a political satire in which there is actually a moment where two men are critiquing the enclosure movement and start talking about the possibility of sheep eating people.

21. Because nothing’s sexier than grumpy Catholics writing Latin satires.

22. Anyway, they have a charming flirtation, aided and abetted by Leonardo da Vinci in the role of fairy godmother.

23. Seriously. Leonardo da Vinci. He’s inventing, painting, and acting as a wing-man / fairy godmother.

24. Danielle and Henry fall in love, and there’s an appropriately transcendent entrance of Cinderella into the ball.

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25. Although Henry seems to be experiencing that awkward moment when you realize you didn’t remember to put on a costume for your own costume party.

26. Anyway, fast-forwarding towards the end of the movie, when the masquerade ball goes south and Danielle ends up getting sold off to a creepy landowner, she rescues herself.

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(Source: http://hiddlestohn.co.vu/post/91597865807/ever-after-1998-now-hand-me-that-key-or-i)

27. It’s awesome and kick-ass, especially since she seems to have innate sword-handling skills.

28. So when Henry rides up to try to rescue her, Dougray Scott ends up being able to give his best Julia-Roberts-in-Notting-Hill impression. Honestly. He announces that “I kneel before you not as a prince, but as a man in love.”

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29. Then, the evil step-family gets its comeuppance in a way that is delightfully reminiscent of the downfall of Violet Beauregarde.

Rodmilla Beauregarde

(It involves a laundry room and a huge vat of purple dye.)

30. Basically, it’s a charming feminist fairy tale movie set in the sort of Renaissance France where everyone indicates that they’re French by speaking in English accents. It’s essentially a BBC costume drama in which everyone’s just pretending to be in Renaissance France.

31. On that note, the costuming and hair departments are as stellar as they are in any good costume drama. First off, all of the women all have fantastic braids.

Marguerite Braids

32. And everyone with the money for extra yards of fabric has truly spectacular sleeves.

Green Sleeves

33. Also, the film’s big set piece is a masquerade ball, and the costumes are the right balance of intensely glamorous and far too cumbersome for you to actually want to wear.

34. It’s a light-hearted feminist fantasy film in which a character manages to sound like an early modern French lady equivalent of John Oliver when she critiques those who take advantage of a wealth gap to punish the poor beyond their means. Danielle argues, “If you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else it to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves and then punish them?” She’s smart, self-assured, and absolutely delightful.

Happy Watching!

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Dear Internet: Please Watch BELLE Immediately

Hey there–Kazia here!

A few weeks ago, while at my parents’ house during break, I had the good fortune to get my hands on a copy of Amma Asante’s 2013 film Belle. I had seen it once in theaters and was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to re-watch it. Luckily, I was not disappointed!

Belle tells the based-on-true-life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Martha’s sister on Doctor Who), a woman about whom little is known except her biracial heritage and her portrait. Raised alongside her white cousin Elizabeth by their great-uncle and great-aunt Lord and Lady Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson), Dido struggles with her position as an (ultimately wealthy) biracial woman in a society with extremely rigid social hierarchies based on race, class, and gender. Although her aunt and uncle attempt to maintain these social rules so that when she enters society she will “always know her place,” Dido spends her adolescence in a world unable to determine where she fits in society. When she begins to enter the marriage market, she finds a culture filled with both outright racism, especially from her beau’s mother and brother (played by Miranda Richardson and Tom Felton, reprising their respective roles as awful mother and white supremacist), and microagressions (disappointingly from her beau, played by Grantchester’s James Norton, as well as her family). When she meets John Davinier, a vicar’s son bent on entering the law and persuading Lord Mansfield (who is the Lord Chief Justice) to rule in the Zong insurance case which could (and indeed did) pave the way to end slavery in England, her life is changed, and she begins to find a place where she feels she belongs.

Mbatha-Raw beautifully renders heartbreaking scenes of Dido’s otherness, whether it is when a black maid teaches her the best way to brush her hair and she finds a pleasant comfort in their mutual recognition of her difference

or when she claws at her own skin because it is the thing that is restricting her so brutally in a culture of white supremacy.

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(Source: http://thefilmfatale.me/post/107195802470/belle-2014-dir-amma-asante)

Although the editing occasionally has the jumpy feel of a contemporary film, rather than the typically smooth, slow scene changes of many period dramas, this works to emphasize Belle’s complicated emotional state and in particular her outer and inner lives. Asante and co-screenwriter Misan Sagay expertly incorporate the idea and experience of intersectional oppression throughout the film. No character can attempt to pigeonhole Dido based on solely her race, class, or gender without another character jumping in to complicate her position in society. In doing so, they reflect contemporary reality in a way that many period pieces are unable to do, while never being gritty or feeling untrue to the time it is portraying.

And, of course, this wouldn’t be a period drama if it did not have superb costume and set design. I mean,

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/88783205905/gugu-mbatha-raw-in-belle-2014)

holy moly,

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/89402655345/gugu-mbatha-raw-sarah-gadon-in-belle-2014)

look

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/89752342996/penelope-wilton-in-belle-2014)

at

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/84646327640/gugu-mbatha-raw-sarah-gadon-in-belle-2014)

the

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/91977317554/emily-watson-tom-wilkinson-in-belle-2014)

gorgeous

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/113303170745/sarah-gadon-in-belle-2014)

costumes

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(Source: http://gifthescreen.tumblr.com/post/110243579354/52-movie-stills-belle-2013)

and lighting.

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(Source: http://fuckyeahcostumedramas.tumblr.com/post/95208818230/gugu-mbatha-raw-in-belle-2014)

The term costume porn could have been invented just for this movie.

In all seriousness, though, this movie couldn’t be any more period drama-y if it tried. Class struggles, restrictive parents, and angst about the marriage market? Check. A cranky Penelope Wilton? Check. Unbelievably beautiful costumes? Check. Romance, complete with two proposals, conflict, rejection, and (of course) acceptance? Check. A soundtrack by Rachel Portman? Check. A happy ending? Check.

What else do you need to know?

Wishful-Thinking Media Part Two: Or, Why Can’t It Be Summer??

Hello there–Kazia here!

Although my home region of the Northeast is expected to reach a balmy 45 degrees this week, I, like Emily, can’t help but daydream of summer. Emily’s superb choices for her favorite summery media inspired me to ponder my own media picks that reminds me of that most ideal season.

1. Lilo and Stitch. Disney’s 2002 classic follows Stitch (AKA Experiment 626) as he escapes from the Galactic Federation and lands on Kaua’i in Hawaii. He quickly gets adopted as a pet by the difficult, passionate, and eccentric Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl being raised by her older sister. Their relationship soon grows into a classic Disney friendship that tugs at the heartstrings of all who witness it. With gorgeous scenes of surfing, beaches, and island life, Lilo and Stitch is the perfect movie to watch while waiting for the ice to melt (plus, it’s a great story about identity, outsiderness, and family, which is great for any season)!

2. Flora and the Flamingo. My poor, poor friends and family could not stop me from raving about this exquisite wordless picture book for the entirety of last year. Molly Idle, a former Dreamworks animator, expresses so much movement and emotion with her lovely illustrations of an eager young girl in a literal and figurative dance of friendship with a hesitant flamingo. The rhythm of the text is that of a ballet or waltz, and it’s easy to hear the music of their dance. Idle’s warm color palette, soft lines, and surprising turn-down flaps add to the warmth of this Caldecott honor book.

3. Anna and the French Kiss/Lola and the Boy Next Door. Romance seems to be a quintessential staple of all things summer, so a sure way to feel the theoretical summer breeze is to curl up with a good crush-worthy read. Look no further than these two novels by Stephanie Perkins! Anna and the French Kiss features a boarding school in Paris, a lady protagonist hoping to be a film critic, and an extremely cute French-English-American boy. Lola and the Boy Next Door features a costume designing protagonist with a flare for the expressive (she wants to go to prom as Marie Antoinette) and an inventor boy-next-door who is gangly and named Cricket. Both feature cute boys (and cute girls, although the romances are totally straight), slow-burning romance that feels real, and lady protagonists who want romance but aren’t defined by it.

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(Sources: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71N-hAxibZL.jpg and http://www.stephanieperkins.com/images/LolaBoyNextDoorSmall.jpg)

4. The Diviners. Sometimes, the most summery thing is not descriptions of beaches and hot, sunny days, but rather a thick, thick book filled with a dynamic cast of characters and horrifying supernatural creatures and ridiculous 1920’s slang. Such is The Diviners, the thoroughly entertaining first book in Libba Bray’s series, which follows teenage flapper Evie O’Neill as she assists her uncle (who is a curator at the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult in New York City, a museum I desperately wish were real) and attempts to use her strange supernatural power to catch a murderer. Clocking in at around 600 pages, it’s the bee’s knees!

5. I Capture the Castle. Cassandra Mortmain is the perfect narrator to distract you from the cold. Written as Cassandra’s journal, the first novel by Dodie Smith (of One Hundred and One Dalmatians fame) follows the extremely eccentric Mortmain family as they attempt to survive and thrive in a crumbling castle in the English countryside during the 1930s. With a breezy and unsettled feeling, Cassandra “captures” not only herself but those around her, including her artistic and moody family, the live-in sort-of servant who pines for her, and the two wealthy American brothers who move in essentially next door and catch the eyes of both Mortmain sisters. Cassandra’s voice may be the most strongly realized I’ve ever read, and her journal is like a window into a world of gently crumbling nostalgia.

Happy puddle-jumping and icicle-dodging!

On Ocean’s Eleven as the Definitive Slumber-Party Movie

Hi there — Emily here!

After discovering that neither of my teenaged sisters had ever seen Ocean’s Eleven (nobody panic: that oversight has since been rectified), I found myself this week thinking about the heist movie that is arguably the greatest slumber-party movie of our time. Well, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. In all honesty, it’s tied with Clueless, Mean Girls, and The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition for first place in the definitive ranking. But Ocean’s Eleven is truly an amazing slumber-party movie (and also a pretty stellar it’s-Wednesday-night-and-I-don’t-feel-like-being-productive movie).

(Yes, I’m talking about the 2001 remake, not the 1960s rat pack original.) Whether you’re one of the lucky souls who still has ahead of them the joy of seeing this silly movie for the first time, or whether you’ve just forgotten how utterly charming this movie is — whether you’re planning a slumber-party or nostalgically remembering those nights of sleeping bags, nail polish, and far too little sleep — here are my reasons why Ocean’s Eleven should be your pick for your next movie night:

1. It’s an unabashedly campy heist movie, with a byzantine scheme, lots of thieves-with-hearts-of-gold, and all of the requisite plot twists.

2. It stars Mr. Amal Alamuddin, back when he was a suave and sexy eligible bachelor.

3. It co-stars Brad Pitt, as “Man Who Eats in Every Scene.”

4. Okay, Brad Pitt’s character is actually named Rusty Ryan, but seriously, his character’s seeming relationship with craft services is a hilariously weird running bit.

5. For that matter, all of the main cast is wonderful. You’ve got Elliot Gould chewing scenery alongside such actors as Carl Reiner, Julia Roberts, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, and a weirdly Cockney Don Cheadle.

6. On that note, of course, the number of A-list actors in Ocean’s Eleven makes it the perfect trump card in games of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s the perfect nexus of modern Hollywood stars.

7. But don’t worry that your slumber-party movie is without intellectual merit! Ocean’s Eleven is also educational. It features Debussy…

8. …demonstrates the principles of Cockney rhyming slang (where “Barney Rubble” = trouble and “Merchant Banker” = wanker) …

9. …and makes clear the difference between Monet and Manet.

Monet Manet 1

Monet Manet 2

10. Really, though, it’s a well written, artfully directed Soderbergh film which considers the mythos of the self-made man and the modern veneration of America as the land of opportunity.

Happy Watching!

Welcome to the ’60s (and ’50s): A Mid-Century Obsession

Hello there-Kazia here!

Sometimes, if you’re anything like me, cultural interpretations of an era will take hold of your imagination and grip furiously, refusing to let go. In recent weeks, I’ve found my interest rekindling in the 1950s and 1960s. The middle of the 20th century is often portrayed in two ways: either idyllic and romantic, or miserable and horrendous. What I’ve been most interested in, though, are the pieces of media that manage to straddle those lines so carefully, managing to mixing together a concoction of style, ennui, melancholy, and glamour that makes these years so fascinating. Despite my mild obsession with these decades, I have yet to put my finger on exactly what makes an era that was fairly terrible for anyone who wasn’t a straight, cis, white, Christian, abled, middle or upper class man so addictively intriguing, but I think that the contrast between the ideal presented both in that time and now (the perfect nuclear family, yada yada) and the actuality of lived experiences, is completely compelling. I’ve been especially interested in the experiences of (unfortunately, at the moment, white) women who are attempting to negotiate their place in a culture that has little respect for them.  In my fascination with these stories for the past month or so (although it stems back several years to a class I took my junior year of college), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about three particular pieces of media that have particularly struck a chord.

After reading The Bell Jar several years ago, I was drawn to other media that present a complicated view of the ‘50s and ‘60s. An obvious choice was The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962 (2000). Plath has such beautiful, honest prose that so deeply understands what it is to be a young (white, privileged) woman in a patriarchal society, and her descriptions of feeling melancholy and lonely in a sea of people are deeply perceptive. It’s perfect for picking up occasionally and working through slowly—her short, vignette-like entries make it a fascinating read both for browsing and for cover-to-cover perusal.

Seeking more voices of women (although in this case fictional), I watched Mona Lisa Smile (2003). Mona Lisa Smile follows Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), a new art history professor at the highly conservative Wellesley College in the early 1950s. Mona Lisa Smile traces Katherine’s struggle to gain respect from her students (the main cohort is played by Kirsten Dunst, Julia Styles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin) and help them to deconstruct the world in which they live as she simultaneously attempts to find her place in a culture that is disinterested in women who are looking for a path different than being a housewife. It’s a slightly less grim and distinctly more feminist counterpart to The Dead Poet’s Society and The History Boys. Although cheesy and mildly preachy at times (although what teacher/student movie isn’t?), the film does a strong job of showing that there is no one way to live a feminist and fulfilled life. And, like all movies about life-changing teachers, the ending gives you all the feels.

Of course, Mad Men (2007-present) may be the quintessential piece of media focusing on the middle of the century.  This month I’ve marathoned the last 3 ½ seasons with what can only be described as feverish obsession. Although the cast of characters is primarily made up of men with every privilege listed previously, the show has incredibly compelling white women characters and, although they are relegated to frustratingly small roles, women of color. There has been much cultural debate about whether Mad Men seeks to interrogate or reinforce issues of social identity and privilege. While Mad Men is clearly not a perfect show, it does an applaudable job of glamorizing some aspects of the 50s and 60s (*cough* the GORGEOUS costumes) without condoning the blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism that its characters often profess. While many critics have applauded the show for its historical accuracy, many have taken issue with its representation (or lack thereof) of people of color, queer people, and women. These are all completely valid (and, when you learn the history, disappointingly on point) arguments about representation in Mad Men. But the show compellingly shows the complicated intersections of individual identity and larger power structures, and the ways that individuals can simultaneously reinforce and be trapped by existing power structures. Plus,

everyone

looks

really,

really

good

while doing it.

 

Five Reasons Pride Should Be Your Next Pick for Movie Night

Kazia here! Pride (2014) is a fictionalized account of the formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), an activist organization of primarily young adults who, during the British miners’ strike of 1984, fundraised for a Welsh mining village. Besides its all-star cast (including Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, and Jessie Cave), here are five reasons you should bump Pride up in your theoretical queue:

1. It’s a beautiful, unapologetic story about an intergenerational queer community and on the whole they don’t die.

Everybody Lives

(Source: http://tumblerspeltwrong.tumblr.com/post/53544399733/every-fandoms-dream )

2. It’s a hopeful, uplifting dramedy that doesn’t sugar-coat or feel unrealistic. Pride honestly presents queer characters’ struggles with family, coming out, HIV, hate crimes, prejudice and discrimination, and cultural differences, yet it never feels heavy-handed.

3. It’s based on fascinating real-life events. I definitely recommend watching the DVD behind-the-scenes feature, but you can also find more here.

4. It emphasizes the importance (and effectiveness!) of intersectional activism and the power of community.

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(Source: http://emmaofmisthaven.tumblr.com/post/106433315387)

5. It has scenes like this:    

Happy watching!

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(Source: http://jaimelannister.tumblr.com/post/107111370536/you-cant-possibly-say-that-every-woman-is-a)

Ten Pop Culture Knit Picks

Hi there – Emily here!

When it’s cold and snowy and all-too-wintery outside, all I want to do is stay in my warm apartment and knit cozy things. Sweaters, blankets, scarves, socks – even cute little hand-made stuffed animals – all make January seem more cheerful. As I’ve been sitting around knitting this week surrounded by mounds of fluffy purple, orange, and particularly gorgeous blue wool, I got thinking about my favorite knitting media.

Pop culture is filled with knitters. From clever ladies…

…to ruthless ladies…

…to particularly intelligent dogs…

a whole lot of modern pop culture depicts characters who like to knit. Knitting fulfills a lot of different rhetorical functions in pop culture: sometimes it signals old-time-y comfort; sometimes, when characters take the time to make things for each other, it’s a marker for close personal relationships; sometimes it’s purely practical — or even somewhat laughable. But regardless of the thematic importance of knitting in particular examples of media today, some knitting-centric pop culture just makes me just long to buy more yarn and start a new project. So this week, I want to reflect on some of my favorite pieces of knitting media. (For the purposes of this list, knitting media does not include pop-culture-INSPIRED projects, although a quick search of tumblr, pinterest, or etsy will serve up truly overwhelming amounts of those.) Here, then, are some of my favorite pieces of pop culture that make me want to knit:

1. Doctor Who – There are few pieces of pop-culture-related knitwear more iconic than Tom Baker’s impractical but awesome ten-foot-long scarf. Also, knitting a ten-foot-long scarf seems like the perfect project to undertake while getting sucked into binge-watching the classic BBC show about a time-travelling alien traversing the cosmos with his friends and companions. Who needs practical garments when you have more than three decades of silly science fiction to catch up on? (Amy Pond’s delightful Christmas sweater deserves an honorable mention for awesomeness.)

2. Pushing Daisies – Holy Zooey Deschanel’s ukulele, Batman! We’ve mentioned before just how extraordinarily adorable and twee Pushing Daisies is. Pie shop owner Ned can bring the dead back to life by touching them, and throughout the show he teams up with private investigator (and stress-knitter) Emerson Cod to use his particular gift in order to solve murders. Emerson Cod avoids knitting in public but, as the Narrator notes, “he often left the house with the needles in his pocket, should the opportunity to rib-stitch a ski cap present itself.” That is a sentiment with which I can wholeheartedly sympathize.

3. Gilmore Girls – Okay, we admit that we’ve been talking A LOT about Gilmore Girls ever since it showed up on Netflix this fall. But season seven has a whole episode based on a town-wide knit-a-thon. “Knit People Knit” celebrates the joy of getting together with your friends and lots of skeins of yarn for an afternoon of crafting which manages to be simultaneously lazy and productive. It’s glorious.

4. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – At the beginning of each episode of the iconic children’s television show, Mister Rogers enters the room, takes off his sport coat, and puts on a cardigan sweater. Each of those sweaters was hand-knit by his mother (and one now hangs in the Smithsonian). Fred Rogers’ sweaters look comfortable, warm, and made with love. In turn, the act of changing into the sweater at the start of each episode signals an entrance into the gentle, whimsical space of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood.

5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – In the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film based on Truman Capote’s novella, Holly Golightly is a naive society girl — and a charming but perhaps inept knitter. When her neighbor / love interest Fred comments upon her current knitting project, she confesses:  “Actually I’m a little nervous about it. Jose brought up the blueprints for a new ranch house he’s building. I have this strange feeling that maybe the blueprints and my knitting instructions got switched. I mean, it isn’t impossible that I’m knitting a ranch house!” While I imagine that few of us have ever managed to switch a ranch house for a sweater, Holly’s concern about her ability to recognize her knitted product is certainly a familiar feeling! I recommend putting on Breakfast at Tiffany’s to feel better about your own knitting prowess the next time you turn your yarn stash into one big nest of tangles.

6. Outlander – Since it came on the air in the summer, the new Starz drama about a World War II nurse who finds herself in eighteenth-century Scotland has attracted some very well-earned attention for its gorgeous knitwear. Claire’s sweaters, shawls, and shrugs look just as cozy and inviting as does her Highlander lover.

7. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins’s dystopian YA novels and the films based off of them might not seem like the most obvious pick for cozy, warm knitting media, but have you SEEN Katniss’s cowl/scarf/shawl/sweater/wrap thing? It’s the perfect one-shoulder accessory for the kick-ass lady archer in your life.

8. Penelope – Christina Ricci plays Penelope, a woman cursed to have a pig’s snout for a nose in this whimsical romantic comedy. Penelope has been hidden away all her life for fear that she will be reviled for her looks. So when she decides to experience life and venture into the “real” world, she wears a particularly stunning scarf to cover her face. Although the film hinges on her coming to accept herself and leave off her scarf (and, you know, fall in love with James McAvoy), the scarf itself is rather fabulous, and I can imagine few afternoons better than one spent knitting yourself a Penelope scarf while watching Penelope over again.

9. Firefly – In a mid-season episode from the beloved one-season Joss Whedon show about a ragtag group of space cowboys (more or less), dangerous mercenary Jayne Cobb receives a package from his mother: a homemade hat and a letter. The hat isn’t actually a particularly attractive garment but it’s the thought that counts when Jayne pulls on the hat, inspiring countless Firefly fans to do the same. After all, as the ship’s pilot, Wash, observes, “Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

(Emily’s birthday gift to her sister last year. It’s a cunning hat.)

(Emily’s birthday gift to her sister last year. It’s a cunning hat.)

10. Harry Potter – The wizarding world is rife with knitwear. Albus Dumbledore reads knitting patterns while recruiting Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, Hermione Granger knits clothing for house elves, and Molly Weasley is stunningly amazing enough to produce a sweater for each of her seven children (and Harry!) every year for Christmas. You know you want a Weasley sweater. And a Hogwarts scarf. And a house elf tea cozy / hat.

Happy Knitting!

Pop Culture That Makes Us Want to Cook (and Eat)

As we look towards our own Thanksgiving celebrations with friends and family, we’ve gotten thinking about food in pop culture. Thanksgiving has a huge presence in pop culture, and TV all weekend will be focused on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football games, and marathons of cheesy movies leading into the holiday season. We love all of these aspects of Thanksgiving-y pop culture, but as we prepare for our own Thanksgiving feasts and try to motivate ourselves to plan ambitious menus, we wanted to look at at pop culture that makes us hungry! Here, then, are ten things that are making us want to cook and eat this holiday season:

1. Pushing Daisies

Ned can bring the dead back to life (temporarily, at least) by touching them. He’s also a pie-maker and runs The Pie-Hole, the twee-est of all the twee restaurants in the history of television. Although episodes of Pushing Daisies inevitably pull Ned away from his pie shop so that he can solve weirdly quirky crimes with an eccentric cast of supporting characters, it’s easy to forget about the mystery and just get distracted by the utter gorgeousness of those pies.

(Source: http://vanishingpointchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/pushing-daisies.jpg)

2. If You Give A Moose a Muffin

“If you give a moose a muffin,” Laura Numeroff notes, “he’ll want some jam to go with it.” Thus begins Numeroff’s circular tale of a distractible moose and his quest for dessert. One of many in a series (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Cat a Cupcake, etc.), If You Give a Moose a Muffin is particularly hard to resist with Felicia Bond’s cozy autumnal illustrations.

(Source: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrensImages/isbn/large/7/9780060244057.jpg)

3. Ratatouille

Ratatouille is, in so many ways, a love-letter to good cooking. The climactic scene, in which dour restaurant critic Anton Ego is transported back to fond memories of his childhood by a simple dish of ratatouille, is just so incredibly happy-making. Throughout, with scenes of busy restaurant life and with Remy fantasizing about good food as bursts of color and light, the Pixar team presents an incredibly sensory and gorgeous depiction of both cooking and eating.

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(Source: http://maelstrommist.tumblr.com/post/103403952637)

4. Redwall

A community of woodland creatures lives in an abbey in the midst of Mossflower Woods in Brian Jacques’s long-running series. Each book involves heroic journeys, quests, kidnappings, and sieges as the abbey-dwellers inevitably come into conflict with rogue vermin. Each book, however, also includes a number of woodland feasts, with food so lovingly described that it inspired a cookbook. With Deeper’n’Ever Turnip’n’Tater’n’Beetroot Pie, a bowl of Hotroot Soup, and a nice glass of Dandelion Cordial, who wouldn’t want to sit down to a Redwall feast?

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(Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/34/GreatRedwallFeast.jpg/200px-GreatRedwallFeast.jpg)

5. Parks and Recreation

“We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third,” Leslie Knope states. That Leslie Knope – who prides herself in caring about her friends over all other things – can waffle (see what I did there?) between friends and breakfast food shows her dedication to delicious meals. The love that characters on Parks and Rec feel for food knows no bounds, whether it’s Leslie’s passion for waffles and whipped cream, Ron’s obsession with meat, or Ben’s adoration for calzones.

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(Source: http://thelittlesnicketlass.tumblr.com/post/85421387002/why-would-anybody-ever-eat-anything-besides)

6. Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of meals that spring up in the Great Hall, butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks, and Mrs. Weasley’s home-cooked meals have no rival.

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(Source: http://unworthyofmyname.tumblr.com/post/18509385701)  

7. Relish

Although we’ve talked about Relish before, this list would be incomplete without another shout-out to Lucy Knisley’s food memoir. Knisley’s descriptions of meals and her beautifully illustrated recipes are sure to make any reader head to the kitchen.

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(Source: https://tothelamppost.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/b2563-relishscan.jpg)

8. Gilmore Girls – A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving

Rory and Lorelai Gilmore are notorious for their eating habits. A huge amount of the action of the show centers around food-related locations: Luke’s Diner, Lorelai’s parents’ house for Friday Night dinners (so much drama!), or Sookie’s kitchen at the Inn. Although the Gilmore girls may be able to consume inhuman amounts of food in virtually every episode, far and away the most impressive episode is “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” in which the Gilmore girls navigate the tricky world of Thanksgiving dinner-hopping. It’s impossible not get hungry while watching this (or any other) episode!

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(Source: http://chickenfingerkid.tumblr.com/post/36075186237/ready-for-thanksgiving)

9. The Lord of the Rings

Sam Gamgee is often figured as the comic-relief-with-a-heart-of-gold in The Lord of the Rings (both Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s films). But there’s something so incredibly noble about his determination to cook crispy bacon on Weathertop and to find some nice conies outside of Mordor. After all, what’s the point of going on a world-saving quest if you can’t still plan to make a nice dinner?

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(Source: http://maelstrommist.tumblr.com/post/103403580782)

10. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

When the Peanuts gang is left alone to fend for themselves for Thanksgiving dinner, Charlie Brown makes a feast of toast, pretzels, popcorn, and jelly beans. Once we get over our ambition to make cakes worthy of Gilmore Girls’s Sookie St. James, waffles worthy of Parks and Rec’s Leslie Knope, and French comfort food worthy of Ratatouille’s Remy the rat, it’s nice to at least assure ourselves of our ability to make a feast equal to that of Charlie Brown and his friends.

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(Source: http://maelstrommist.tumblr.com/post/103403736062/shefadestoblack-we-should-just-be-thankful-for)

Happy Eating!

Ten Autumnal Favorites

As the season continues to change and the brisk days of autumn get colder and shorter, we thought it was time to take a look at some of our favorite autumnal media – the cozy, melancholy, hopeful things we love to pair with thick sweaters and apple cider. Here are our picks!

Kazia’s Picks:

1. Sense and Sensibility. I know we’ve mentioned Jane Austen a time or two before on this blog, but Austen’s first published book is my favorite gloomy-yet-hopeful story and a must-read for me each fall. Each character holds so much emotion – internal Elinor, “prone to these dark moods from time to time” Edward, and heart-on-her-sleeve Marianne. Their ways of making do under new and trying circumstances combined with the intense melancholy and the cold but cozy feeling of cottage life make it the ideal book to curl up with in the fall, when things are changing and feel uncertain.

2. Inkheart. Meggie has always loved books, a love she shares with her bookbinder father Mo. When, on a dark and stormy night, a mysterious man named Dustfinger arrives on their doorstep, Meggie is thrust into an adventure that tests her understanding of herself and her family. Filled with magic, delicious names like Silvertongue and Capricorn, and quotes and sketches (done by the author herself!) that bookend each chapter, Cornelia Funke’s book about books is the perfect autumn treat – and just the right thickness – to cozy up with as the leaves change.

3. Sylvia Plath, especially The Bell Jar. With equal parts despair and hope, The Bell Jar has the huge range of emotions that I associate both with school and the fall.

4. The 1994 adaptation of Little Women. I know that this is a very contentious adaptation, but I love it to no end. Although I have tons of personal familial nostalgia wrapped up in my love for the film, I also think it has all the autumn feelings. There’s birth, death, good relationships, bad relationships, and family. There’s the New England locale (bonus: very close to my hometown!), the simultaneous desire for everything to stay the same and everything to change, and the Marmee pep talk I need to hear consistently throughout each school year. There are also glorious costumes, a wonderful cast, and a beautiful Thomas Newman score.

5. When autumn rolls around, I’m always in the mood for folky, melancholic, comfortable songs like Lily & Madeleine’s “Sounds like Somewhere,” Mumford & Sons’s “Winter Winds,” Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going.”

 

Emily’s Picks:

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. An alternate-history fantasy novel about rival magicians, faerie kingdoms, the Napoleonic Wars, and the mid-nineteenth-century renaissance of practical magic in England, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is just the sort of book I love curling up with on a cold autumn afternoon. It’s spooky and dark, with madness, war, and faerie abductions, but it’s also delightful and comforting, with a series of footnotes which are charmingly pedantic about the “history” of British magic and an utterly wonderful narrator who seems like what might result if history had made it possible for Edgar Allan Poe to have asked Jane Austen to ghost-write his short stories. At 782 pages, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell isn’t a fast read, but it’s a perfect novel to get absorbed in when the days are getting shorter and all you want is a blanket, hot cider, and a good book.

2. December. Okay, I admit that this album contains a lot of Christmas music for a list about autumnal media, but George Winston’s album of solo piano music inspired by the start of the holiday season is calm and meditative and gorgeous. Because we listened to this album a lot when I was growing up, my reaction to December is very much colored by nostalgia and childhood memories of pumpkin bread, family, and togetherness. But Winston’s quiet, beautiful music seems so perfectly in tune with this increasingly cold and dark – but also expectant and hopeful – time of year. Regardless of your personal opinion about the propriety of listening to Christmas music before the month of December actually begins, I very much recommend that you at least check out the opening track, “Thanksgiving.”

3. A Wrinkle in Time. Fall also seems like the perfect time to revisit old favorites, and to that end, I keep coming back to Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction novel about a smart and awkward teenage girl who comes into her own as she saves her father and brother from a terrifyingly powerful telepathic force. In telling this story about an interplanetary evil, A Wrinkle in Time plays with the balance between darkness and hope that seems central to so many of our autumnal media selections. Although Mallory Ortberg of The Toast has recently – and hilariously – pointed out how truly obnoxious one of the supporting characters is, L’Engle’s book about the power of nonconformity, the strength of familial love, and the awesomeness of geek girls has a special place in my heart.

4. Friends: Season 1, Episode 9. “The One Where Underdog Gets Away.” Of course, as much as autumnal pop culture embraces the gloominess of short, cold November days, this media also focuses on the communal gatherings which keep the cold at bay. Friends always had fun with its Thanksgiving episodes, perhaps because the central conceit of Friends – that twentysomethings turn their friend groups into their own surrogate families – fits so well with the holiday. But the show’s first Thanksgiving foray, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” is a particularly delightful episode. Monica decides to host her first Thanksgiving dinner after finding out that her parents are going out of town for the holiday: through a series of sit-com mishaps, the rest of the gang ends up joining her for dinner. Although the dinner itself ends up ruined, the friends all gather in Monica’s apartment to celebrate the holiday together – albeit with grilled cheese. It’s a charming and cozy episode with funny character beats (Phoebe celebrates Thanksgiving on a lunar schedule, while Chandler boycotts all the Pilgrim holidays) and genuine heart.

5. Anne of Green Gables series. Finally, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books (and the 1980s miniseries which dramatized them) are delightfully autumnal in all the best ways. Anne Shirley is an orphan girl who gets adopted by a pair of elderly siblings and goes to live on the gorgeously picturesque Prince Edward Island. There, she grows up while basking in the glorious Romanticism of the world around her and the whimsy of her own imaginings. Anne’s intensely optimistic approach to the world — coupled with her fascination with a certain sort of artistic, dramatic tragedy — just makes me want to go outside and enjoy the brisk fall air and everything it might symbolize. After all, these are books in which Anne announces how glad she is that she lives in a world in which there are Octobers and in which the narrator calls November “the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines.” It’s somehow a lot harder to grumble about how windy it is outside when you’re thinking about Anne’s deep, sad hymns of the sea.

Anyway, we hope you enjoy finding some new recommendations!

Happy Autumn!

Four Documentaries to Make You Feel Unaccomplished

With the second season of Masterchef Junior premiering on November 4, Kazia thought it was time to revisit a handful of documentaries about gifted kids competing in the arts.

I am a crier. Anything vaguely hopeful or uplifting (not to mention sad) gets the waterworks going. It’s no surprise that, as an English major and a children’s librarian, stories about young people and the arts get me every time. These documentaries are incredibly moving, but there’s also something hilariously incongruous about watching gifted kids and teens working ridiculously hard to achieve artistic accomplishment while I sit on my bed, in my pajamas, watching them while avoiding homework. So if you too would like to simultaneously feel inspired and inadequate, look no further!

First Position (2011)

First Position follows six dancers who are training for and competing in the Youth American Grand Prix, an annual dance competition for a small number of extremely competitive scholarships and contracts for dancers ages 9-19. The documentary looks not just at their experiences training for and competing in the Grand Prix, but also their family lives and what started them dancing. It’s completely involving – plus, we get to see them all dance beautifully.

Shakespeare High (2012)

Shakespeare High looks at the 90th annual Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Shakespeare Festival. Teams from 50 schools prepare scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and Macbeth, and the documentary follows teams from just a few schools, and in particular the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and Hesperia High School (an underprivileged school). The dedication and enthusiasm of the teams is inspiring, and you’re treated to snippets of wholly unique interpretations of the Bard.

Louder Than a Bomb (2010)

Louder Than a Bomb looks at the titular youth poetry slam, held annually in Chicago. Following a handful of high school teams as they prepare for the 2008 competition, the documentary makes us privy to the participants’ artistic inspirations and preparation processes, and gives us access to their performances at the slam.

Fame High (2013)

Fame High follows four students (a dancer, a singer, an actor, and a jazz pianist) at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (also featured in Shakespeare High). Their struggles to shape their artistic identities while balancing pressures from school, family, their peers, and their industries are compelling.

Bonus:

Masterchef Junior (2013-present)

Of course, I can’t not mention the show that kicked off this post. Even though it’s a “reality competition” show and we all know about the levels of realism in reality shows, this show has just as much realism as any documentary. 24 applicants between the ages of 8 and 13 audition for 12 slots in the competition, and as each week passes contestants are eliminated. Group and solo challenges test the limits of the young chefs, but host Gordon Ramsey is surprisingly encouraging without being patronizing, lightly assisting contestants when things go horribly awry while giving them legitimate feedback on their dishes. Plus, you will never know tension until you wait for an eight-year-old contestant to cut open her chocolate lava cake and see if it’s melted inside.

 

If you’re looking for more inspiring Shakespeare:

Although it’s not a documentary about kids, Shakespeare Behind Bars is just as moving as those mentioned above. It follows inmates at Kentucky’s Luther Luckett Correctional Complex as they prepare to perform The Tempest. The inmates use their roles as a way to process their crimes and their positions in society, and in doing so the transformative power of the arts becomes apparent.

If you’re looking for more about the experiences of young ballerinas:

Michaela DePrince, one of the six dancers featured in First Position, just released a memoir!

If you’re looking for more slam poetry:

Check out Button Poetry on Youtube, which features incredible slam poetry by people of all ages.

Enjoy!