Motherhood & Monsters in Under The Shadow

Time to get spooky! My halloween treat this year was to watch Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016) and I was NOT disappointed. Terrified yes, but not disappointed. Read my analysis of Under the Shadow’s interrogation of motherhood and monsters over at Bitch Flicks, for their Women in Horror Theme Week!

 

 

 

Time of the Month: LANE KIM (GILMORE GIRLS)

My favourite Gilmore Girl is not a Gilmore Girl at all. It’s punk-rock, drummer-turned-waitress-turned-mumma Lane Kim.

Lane Kim, played by the superb Keiko Agena, is Rory Gilmore’s lifelong best friend and confidante. When we first meet her, she appears to be a nicely spoken, sweet fifteen year old who studies hard and never puts a toe out of line. It only takes us ten minutes to work out that Lane is actually living the double life that many teens do, due to her mother’s strict household rules. The character of Lane was actually based on Helen Pai, a longtime friend of Gilmore Girls creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino. Pai, like Lane, grew up hiding her true identity from her strict Seventh-day Adventist parents as Bustle explains here

Lane Kim is a marvel, a superhero if you will. She is a master of compromise, constantly navigating her Korean heritage with American pop-culture, her love of junk food with her mother’s health crazes. She’s smart, strong, independent and above all else, she’s a brilliant friend.

There is an expectation that Lane would constantly be going an identity crisis of sorts as she crosses over two very distinct cultures, but Lane is confident in herself and what she likes. It’s pretty rare to see a teenage girl who has relatively high self esteem on TV and it’s doubly wonderful that Lane is a woman of colour. Of course, the Asian stereotype dictates that Lane should be an overachiever, timid and introverted. Though Lane may put this facade on to please her mother, she is none of the above. She’s an extrovert, with loud opinions. It is Rory who is the academic overachiever in their friendship.

Mothers, mothers, mothers..

One of the absolute greatest moments ever (and i mean ever, not just in Gilmore Girls), is when Lane tells Mrs Kim that she is giving up the band. They aren’t having any success with booking gigs and Lane, for the first time ever, just wants to quit. This is unlike her, and Mrs Kim can see that too. Known for her organisational (or rather military) skills, Mrs Kim quickly books the band a series of shows in Christian venues across the region effectively allowing them to tour. She organises their van, sorts out their packing and sends them on their way to capture the hearts of young Christians everywhere.

Of course, Mrs Kim’s actions are totally predictable – she’s stellar at solving a problem and she’s very good at making sure people fall in line with her orders. What is out of character is Mrs Kim’s sudden support for Lane extracurricular activities. She has never been a fan of rock music (likening it to the Devil himself most of the time), and she’s never been one to support her daughter doing anything outside of the Seventh Day Adventist Rulebook (the Bible, I guess?). This, I believe, was the turning point in Lane and Mrs Kim’s relationship. Mrs Kim, despite her hatred for rock music, hated seeing Lane giving up her dream and so decides to put aside her own grievances to help Lane and the band. Of course, the compromise is that they are playing Christian events only – but it is still a huge leap forward between mother and daughter.

Similarly, when Lane gets married to Zack (which still makes me angry #comebackDave), she sees a side to her mother that she had never seen before. Lane has to have a traditional Buddhist wedding  for the sake of her Grandparents, who would be horrified if they discovered that Lane and Mrs Kim were Seventh-day Adventists. As Lane watches her mother hide all the Christian iconography in their house, she realises that her mother rebelled too – just in a different way. Instead of reaching out popular culture, punk-rock and teen heartthrobs, Mrs Kim chose the Seventh-day Adventists as her way out of her family’s traditional culture. Each Kim woman is forging a life for herself, and it is not without irony that Lane understands this.

What is also pretty obvious, by the end of the series at least, is that Lane is a parallel of Lorelai. Both of them rebel from their mothers, move out of home and have children young. They both have ambitious streaks and are not easily swayed. They are both staples of Stars Hollow, darlings of the community if you will. Lorelai was also a stand-in mother to Lane for most of her teenage years – Lane would go over to the Gilmore house to eat junk food, wear her favourite clothing and sometimes to see Dave (yay Dave!).

Always the best friend, never the protagonist…

Whilst this parallel is interesting, I felt like Gilmore Girls almost gave up with Lane after Rory went to Yale. Of course, now Rory isn’t in Stars Hollow all the time, it makes sense that we and her would see less of Lane. What we did get to see, though, was her pining over Zack who treated her terrible and didn’t seem to know what he wanted most of the time. Lane deserved better! Lane was there as a constant for Rory through her ups and downs with Dean, Jess and Logan. Where was Rory when Lane should have been told that she deserved better than a guy who didn’t know if he wanted to date her! Speaking of, Rory was late to Lane’s baby shower, wasn’t even there for the birth of Lane’s twins and barely made an impact at her wedding.

Okay, maybe this has actually just turned into a ‘Rory is a bad friend to Lane’ rant, but someone has to say it.

Moving on… The basis of what I am trying to say is this. Lane is a wonderful character, a truly unique sidekick who deserved much more time and attention. As much as it annoys me that Lane gets stuck with Zack (sorry, I just don’t like him), it’s also pretty rare to see a woman succeeding at her career, her love life and being a parent. In A Year in the Life, Lane still makes music as well as being an awesome mother to her boys. Her and Zack are happy, and she still has time for Rory. Lane is clearly a wonderful mother, and I am glad that we get to see her still playing music both in the house and at the Secret Bar. All is not lost! Women truly can have it all if that is what they want! Not that you would know it to look at Paris or Rory, but at least Lane is a shining beacon of ‘actually being happy’ – and for that I am glad. On the one hand, it’s pretty sad that one of the best Asian-American representations on television is a character who is the best friend of the protagonist, but on the other – at least Lane is an awesome character, with her own stories. 

It feels sad that Lane got sidelined so much in the later year of the series, to make room for Rory’s boy troubles (specifically with Logan), when Lane was going through such a transitional period in her life. From being a rebellious teenager to an overbearing mother, to a mother herself. At least, in my view, Lane came out on top. Thoroughly deserved. 

The Eyes of My Mother (Nicholas Pesce, 2016): Review

I don’t usually go in for horror films. It’s a bit of a cliche, but as I have got older, the less impressive they seem to be. Perhaps I over-indulged myself a little too much in my teenage years (I can’t remember my friends and I watching anything but horror films), but there seems to be very little originality in horror films of the last few years. Western horror films are now full of jump-scares, or are overly gory, and tend to rely on shock tactics rather than compelling or genuinely horrific narratives.

So imagine my pleasant surprise (perhaps pleasant is the wrong word here), as I watched Nicholas Pesce’s debut feature film, The Eyes of My Mother. Part of the BFI London Film Festival’s Official Selection and debuting at Sundance Film Festival, The Eyes of My Mother is an arthouse horror film which absorbed me from beginning to end. There is something altogether different about Pesce’s approach to horror, something which contemporary horror films seem to forgo, in favour of blood, guts and gore.

When Francisca’s mother (Diana Agostini) is brutally murdered in front of her at a young age, Francisca’s life changes forever. The tragic experience, and her father’s inability to deal with the aftermath, results in Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) acting upon some very dark and dangerous desires.

Shot in black and white, and utilising both English and Portuguese language to tell the story, The Eyes of My Mother is a truly horrific experience, in the very purest sense of the word. The narrative fixates on the trauma suffered by Francisca, both from her mother’s death and her father’s neglect of her and the situation. The murderer, Charlie, injured during the fight with the mother, is left for dead in the family barn. Francisca’s father, supposedly wracked with grief, instructs Francisca to deal with Charlie. The young girl, already traumatised, starts performing surgery on Charlie – the kind her mother used to teach her about.

Shot in striking black and white, The Eyes of My Mother is a visually layered film. A black and white horror film sets expectations for gore before the title sequence has even finished – traditional in Hollywood and in the arthouse circuit dictates this. It’s true, The Eyes of My Mother is particularly gruesome, but it doesn’t sacrifice story for these moments. The monochrome filter helps to soften these scenes, but simultaneously alerts us to their presence. The absence of bright blood makes it bearable, but the lack of real colour makes it even more unnerving.

It is never completely obvious whether Francisca enjoys inflicting pain on her various victims, or whether she believes that what she is doing is right. She might well be a product of her trauma and her upbringing, or it is quite possible that she is a psychopath and actually enjoys inflicting pain on others. It could also be a combination of both – as is most likely. Though leaving Francisca’s motivations open is interesting, it also prevent us from identifying with Francisca. We never get close enough to her to truly understand her thoughts and feelings, we are kept at a very deliberate distance. Though, perhaps this is the point.

Similarly, Francisca performing surgery mirroring her mother’s lessons is an attempt to replicate her mother – to become her mother. It’s another cyclical narrative, with Francisca desiring motherhood towards the end of the film. Encompassing societies expectations about women and motherhood, Francisca seems to feel that the only way for her to be fulfilled is to become a mother herself. Societal expectations on women as caregivers, especially mothers, is rife throughout the film. From Francisca’s twisted desire for a child (at the expense of another woman), to her need to ‘take care’ of Charlie by performing surgery on him, to her own fathers dependency on her – Francisca is constantly nurturing throughout the film. Is it forced motherhood? Is Pesce making a comment on how women crave motherhood and will obtain it any cost? Or is this just part of Francisca’s personality, something which has developed due to the trauma associated with her own mother. 

In contrast, Francisca is routinely unemotional and presents stereotypically masculine traits when grieving for both her mother and father. She doesn’t cry or present any feelings, instead she gets on with her life. Though her father has relatively little screen-time (too little for us to really garner any solid information about him), we can assume that Francisca has developed this trait from him. The little we see of him presents him as unfeeling and even cold toward Francisca.

The Eyes of My Mother takes an interesting line on nature vs nurture, the cycle of trauma and it’s narrative unfolds in a way that compliments these themes. It is a throwback to older horror films of the 70s (think Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but masquerading itself in the form of an arthouse flick. It’s got a (again) horrific subject matter, but it just looks so damn good. To be honest, it worked for me.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not (I repeat NOT) a film to see if you don’t like horror films. Whilst you can appreciate the visuals and lap up the ultra-long takes, it’s a hard film to sit through if gore and guts are not your friend. It isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you can push past that – you’ll find a very interesting (and unique) film behind it.

 

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The Eyes of My Mother is out on limited release in the UK in March 2017, and is currently on release in the US.

Raised by Wolves: on the cancellation of one of the greatest shows ever

Channel 4 has announced a few weeks ago that they won’t be renewing the utterly hilarious Raised by Wolves and I am mad as hell.

Fortunately, it’s not just me who is mad as hell – the show has a beloved following – and Caitlin Moran (the show’s writer and creator) has already drummed up a lot of noise online to try and save it. Raised by Wolves is Caitlin Moran’s , along with her sister Caroline Moran, TV comedy of their childhood lives. More specifically, their teenage years living in a run down in house in Wolverhampton, being home schooled by their mother. Both Caroline and Caitlin have admitted that aspects of their lives have been embellished (as is the nature of television) but if you’ve read Caitlin’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ or ‘How to Raise a Girl’, you’ll know that despite the differences, a lot of Raised by Wolves is true in essence to Caitlin’s memoirs. The biggest alteration is the present day setting (Caroline and Caitlin grew up in the 1970s), but it’s hard to imagine bringing in audiences if Raised by Wolves hadn’t been modernised slightly.

Caitlin and Caroline also adopt different names for their onscreen characters – Caitlin’s likeness is Germaine (played by the incredible Helen Monks) and Caroline’s is Aretha (the equally incredible Alexa Davies). In the fictional world of Raised by Wolves, matriarch of the family,Della (Rebekah Staton), has named all of her daughters after influential women. We have Germaine, Aretha, Yoko, Mariah and baby Cher. Della is a hard working, DIY, do-not-cross-me mum who single handedly does absolutely everything for her six children (she also has a son named Wyatt). She’s a beer drinking, cigarette smoking whirlwind who has complete and utter control over her kingdom. In short, she is almost definitely the best mother I have ever seen on a television show. We’ll delve into just why a bit later on. Also in the Garry household, on most occasions, is Grampy – unsurprisingly, the kid’s grandfather. 

Raised by Wolves is a perfect mix of feminist rhetoric, conversations about masturbation and sibling wonderfulness that we so desperately need in the UK comedy scene. It’s a complete travesty that it has been cancelled, but it isn’t that hard to see why. It’s about powerful young women striking out in the world, taking control of their situations and expressing their deepest desires outwardly. Well, for Germaine anyway. If this is the last hurrah, let us delve into the things we love best about those Garrys. #upthewolves

 

Sex Positive

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Though our Germaine is named after a Germaine who was very prominent in second wave feminism, her values and ideas about femininity and sex are very, very different. In fact, it’s probably better that we don’t talk too much about the car crash that is Germaine Greer, and focus more on the wonderful young woman whom Germaine. She’s confident, sexual, curious and maybe a tiny bit batshit crazy, but she always has her heart in the right place. The greatest thing about Germaine is that she knows she is something special, and doesn’t let anyone forget it.

To see such confidence in a young teenager is comic, yes, and also slightly unnerving. We are so used to seeing teenage girls upset and horrified by their bodies and sexuality, but our Germaine bucks this trend with style. Self confident, sexual and ready for some action of the male variety – Germaine doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. It’s super refreshing.

In ‘The Dorchester’, we get to witness Germaine’s first throes of passion – making out with any boy available in the nightclub. Germaine’s realisation that she has something they want, and she can get what she wants by giving it to them (kissing) leads her to snog her way around the club, pretty much. In a subversion of the very typical image of a horny teenage boy working his way round all of the girls – it is Germaine who uses the boys to satisfy her newly discovered sexual desires.

It is unsurprising that Germaine has such a sex positive attitude when she has Della as her mother. Della, whilst balancing both the roles of mother, father, DIY maestro, life-coach and  teacher to all of her children, also has a very healthy and liberating sex life. In season 1, Della meets and dates a breakdown vehicle driver, and she isn’t afraid to tell him what she really wants. Layered in innuendo, the two of them eat scotch eggs in Tesco car park and spin doughnuts in the middle of the street. Della knows what she wants and isn’t at all afraid to get it. Despite their extreme difference, you can see where Germaine gets it from.

 

Working Class Women

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Where are the working class women on British TV? I’ve tried looking, but there’s a distinct lack nowadays. We had Shameless, and we had the Royale Family, and Raised by Wolves filled the gap in the market for a short time (at least for being as wonderfully rude as the other two contenders). One of the saddest things about the cancellation of Raised by Wolves is the loss of a television show which is made by and is about working class women. Not just that, but regional working class women. The Garry’s are proud of their midlands identity (“we’re not southern twats, we’re not northern twats, we’re midlands twats”), and there is very little else on British television that even comes close.

 

Body Image

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Another wonderful moment from ‘The Dorch’ will, if you’ve ever been a teenage girl, l have you in stitches about your first time underage clubbing.  If you haven’t been an underage teenage girl, you’ll still probably laugh a lot, so it is totally worth watching. To get ready for their Big Night Out, Germaine decides to hack away at Yoko’s full length skirt, turning into a new and improved (and very short) miniskirt. Germaine tells Yoko to embrace her legs – because it turns out she does have incredible pins. The three girls enter the club, Yoko with her legs out, Germaine in her faux Victorian lace garb and Aretha in her oversized jumper and they have the time of their lives.

Though the three Garry girls are of very different sizes, and have very different interests and ideas about fashion – there is an overwhelmingly positive message about body image in Raised by Wolves. Germaine, not what we would typically view as ‘model material’ (thanks internalised misogyny) is an uber confident teenager – a rarity on television.

As confident as Germaine is, Aretha is quite the opposite. However, her own sense of style and her reservations about her own body (“I haven’t even seen myself naked”) are respected. There is an understanding that, although Aretha may not be entirely comfortable in her own skin, this is perfectly normal and many teenagers go through it.

 

The rituals of growing up female

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The entire show is rooted in feminine milestones. Yoko’s first period, a first bra fitting, first kisses and first crushes. Events that are (in society’s patriarchal brain) life changing and life defining for women. I mean, everyone knows that your first time changes you forever, right? (wrong. So wrong, incase anyone didn’t get the sarcasm).

Raised by Wolves takes these seemingly important milestones and makes them seem not quite as traumatic. The trauma comes from having Germaine as your sister (if you are Aretha) or your mum making you go out and forage for food. Or, god forbid, having to work in the pound shop to earn your keep. It’s true that Yoko starting her periods is terrifying for her, and not everything goes to plan, but ultimately the realisation is that every woman goes through this. That it is going to be okay and there’s nothing to be worried about. As Germaine says about tampons, ‘I just put it in my lady mouse hole’.

There’s also the exploration of first loves and first heartbreaks. In the final episode of the second season (and potentially ever, sob), both Aretha and Germaine are dealing with their first heartbreaks… in two very different ways. Though the two sisters are unlike in many, many ways, they reconcile at the end of the episode and help each other get through the pain of being dumped, and that of unrequited love. It’s touching and sweet, and just another reason why this show is just so damn good.

 

 

The cancellation of Raised by Wolves is a fucking tragedy. It’s funny, feminist and unique in every way. Still, Caitlyn Moran has launched a facebook page to save the show, so if you are still grieving like me – so go on, join the rebel alliance, bab. 
Also – both seasons are still available to view on 4OD at the moment…

 

 

Time of the Month: ALICIA FLORRICK (THE GOOD WIFE)

This will be the first instalment of a series of posts entitled Fab Female Characters (until I think of a better name, ideas welcome!) where I talk about an influential/well developed female character from a film or TV series. Mostly because having a regular series will help motivate me to actually write more often on this blog… Continue reading “Time of the Month: ALICIA FLORRICK (THE GOOD WIFE)”

Jane The Virgin: Masculinity, Motherhood and Making a Difference

Jane the Virgin starts off as a pretty simple story about a young woman Jane (Gina Rodrigez) who is accidentally artificially inseminated whilst at her doctors for a routine pap smear test. Continue reading “Jane The Virgin: Masculinity, Motherhood and Making a Difference”

Happy Mothers Day: TV’s Favourite Mothers

Mothers Day! A time to celebrate how awesome our mothers are, how little we appreciate them and how next year we will definitely buy them a better present. In all seriousness, though, Mums are incredible beings that have the power to stop our tears, read our minds and always make everything better. Continue reading “Happy Mothers Day: TV’s Favourite Mothers”