Under the Eye: “Jezebels”

“Jezebels”

So Nick, right? We’re on to Nick in our origin story round-up. In the before-time, in the long-long ago, Nick was an unemployed loser just lookin’ for a job, Son. He gets into a tangle at the local employment agency, Worthy Path Career Counseling (creepy name with religious connotations). He basically gets “witnessed” to by a Son of Jacob, who gives him a few pointers on discipline and responsibility. Where are we? Five years ago? Ten? This is when I began to suspect that Gilead was a Socialist construct. The man he talks to speaks about Capitalism with disdain. He speaks of a plan to set the Country right and clean up the mess. He tells Nick he’s not alone, and I wonder why Nick has to be a bad apple so that the Sons of Jacob could clean him up and set him on the “right path.” June finds Fred waiting for her in her bedroom. He tells her he’s going to take her out for a night on the town. He even shaves her legs. The leg-shaving scene is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen in any television show or movie, or anything. He asks her if she remembers how to put on makeup. It’s been three fucking years. He wraps her up in a slinky dress. Elisabeth Moss is a handsome woman, but she’s hardly glamorous. I wouldn’t even call her sexy, but it takes all kinds to make a world, I guess, and I still don’t understand Fred’s attraction to her, or Nick’s. Maybe I’m just being cruel, but if you’re gonna put her kisser up on my big-screen TV, I’m gonna judge her looks. Sorry.

This scene is in every John Hughes movie.

Commander Fred is a man made of desires and tastes. It isn’t enough that he has a devoted, beautiful wife in Serena, no. Her devotion is mandated by the State. She knows her place (she wrote a book about her place), even if it requires her silence, her masquerade of illiteracy, and her reptilian gaze. What Fred needs is a throbbing erection and a throbbing orifice in which to place that erection, and his needs are all that matter. He’s even willing to break the law to get what he wants, just as they all do. This is why we have Jezebels, a brothel at the edge of town, where all manner of depraved acts can be committed under a magic cloak of silence. First rule of Jezebels is you don’t talk about Jezebels – that sort of thing. In a flashback, Nick is a driver for the Elite of Gilead. He overhears talk of rounding up the fertile women to be impregnated. There is some argument about this, but as long as there is “scriptural precedent,” nobody has a problem with it. They also talk about making the wives part of the Ceremony (just as I thought, it’s all made up on the spot) so that they’ll shut up. “White Rabbit” plays rather inappropriately as June tours Jezebels in a strange Eyes Wide Shut-like tableau. “Somebody to Love” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Jefferson Airplane*. This is where the educated (or infertile yet attractive) women, the doctors, the lawyers, go when they aren’t shunted off to the dreaded Colonies. Isn’t this a nice place?

Jezebels! A fun, kinky place!

Jezebels is an enormous mistake for Atwood and the television series, because it puts all of Gilead’s cards on the table. This isn’t just keeping the women in their place. It is a sociopathic fear/lust of women. In a way, Gilead gives or acknowledges in women a supernatural power that must be vanquished or suppressed. Yet, in all this madness, June finds Moira, who did not escape. She’s now a whore named Ruby. What is this obsession with changing people’s names? It’s a little too intellectual a premise to rob someone of their identity. Nick uses his Eye credential to get information from a Martha working at Jezebels about a Commander who has bent the rules. It’s interesting he doesn’t use his knowledge of Fred to bring him down (unless he worries about hurting June in the process). Nick remembers the discovery of the previous Offred hanging from the ceiling in her bedroom. At Jezebels (which, I don’t know, it’s kind of a cute name, it sounds like a chain of restaurants or night clubs), Fred wants to have sex with June, like for real, not this ridiculous Ceremony. June slips out to find Moira. She hears sounds, sees images of violent and depraved sexuality. The women are brutalized, of course – what else is new? Do we expect any less of this show? Moira tells June she was rescued by Quakers (I don’t understand – do they have “Quaker” I.D. cards or something) but they were killed for harboring her. Moira was captured, given a choice: the Colonies or Jezebels. Wait a minute. They gave her a choice? Her spirit has been broken. She lives in fear now.

Max Minghella has but one expression, and you’re lookin’ at it.

We do learn a little more about the Eyes of Gilead. They’re a little less than snoops, and more like tattle-tales, put in place by the top brass to ensure loyalty from their Commanders. My guess is after ratting out so many high-ranking officials within Gilead, Nick was entrusted with the duties of an Eye. The photography of the show is stunning but the Kubrickian symmetry of the compositions is undermined by excessive use of tight depth-of-field shots in order to evoke an almost Pavlovian emotional response to the visual. As such, and because this practice is repeatedly used, there is no evolution in the cinematography. Same with the wardrobe (which I’ve heard dubbed, “Hyatt Regency” – all drab and lifeless, but for the bright, blood red of the handmaid cloak. The show is way too polished for the effect it is trying to achieve. June yells at Nick, because of her anger over the atrocity and hypocrisy of such a place as Jezebels, about how such a fiery and fierce lesbian as Moira can die on the inside because all she had in her heart was anger, and that really is all she had. I don’t know why Nick has to hear this. It’s not his fault, right? Or is it the fault of all men? Serena returns from wherever the hell she was and presents June with a gift: a music box with a dancing ballerina. We get more aggravating purple prose from June as she etches words into a wall. “You are not alone.” Cute.

* What happened to Jefferson Airplane? Is Gilead paying royalties to Jefferson Airplane for use of the song, or are royalties not considered part of the framework because it isn’t in the Bible? What happened to Grace Slick? At the age of 79, would she be considered a Martha? Or did she, you know, blow a pilot to get her safely away from Gilead when she saw the trouble coming down?

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Vintage Cable Box: Boarding School, 1978

“You look like a strong boy.  Do you think you could help me with my luggage when we arrive?”

Boarding School, 1978 (Nastassja Kinski), Atlantic Releasing 

The first image of 1978’s Boarding School (renamed from the more snooty The Passion Flower Hotel for smutty U.S. audiences) shows a young woman’s flaccid, flat nipple slowly becoming erect when exposed to a poster of Marlon Brando as he appeared in his iconic The Wild One.  The other girls count off how long it takes before the fleshy pearls become rigid – like a contest?  It’s an unusual qualification for entry into womanhood, or at the very least hetero-normative womanhood.  What if Brando doesn’t rock your world?  What if you’re a Bogart girl?  Saint Clara’s School for Girls, 1956 is a hotbed of libidinous tarts; as in Barbarella, it becomes a vehicle for feminine empowerment, but is ultimately nothing more than dirty old men ogling jail-bait.

We join American girl Deborah Collins (Nastassja Kinski) en route to Saint Clara’s in a train occupied by clergy.  Who was Saint Clara?  Patron saint of hot and horny young women?  Actually, no.  There doesn’t seem to be a Saint Clara, but there was a Saint Clare.  Canonized two years after her death, Clare was the patron Saint of among many other things, eye disease, laundry, and television.  Huh?  Anyway, Deborah arrives and, almost immediately, starts influencing the girls in the ways of love and sex (although she was originally assigned by the headmistress to keep the girls in check).  Tall and imposing, but with a look not dissimilar to Ingrid Bergman, Kinski’s gum-chewing strumpet quickly sizes up her authority figures, and we are left to wonder if Europeans presume “Americans” to be nothing more than sex-obsessed misfits.

I’m not sure what to make of the girls in Boarding School, except to say upon entering high school, I knew not one girl who behaved in this way.  They were neither oversexed nor undersexed.  They existed as entities with breasts with suspicious, darting eyes and long hair.  Some girls were more developed than others (as with boys) but none of them looked like Nastassja Kinski!  If I must get intellectual on your collective ass, I would say the repression of the parochial authoritarian as represented by the headmistress, her staff, and the various members of the clergy wandering about in juxtaposition to the “latest American craze”, the rock and/or roll music the kids love creates an intriguing sociological groundswell.  In other words, if the kids like to dance, they’ll also enjoy screwing.

In a minor departure from the source material, the best-selling book, The Passion Flower Hotel by Rosalind Erskine (a revelatory pseudonym for Roger Erskine Longrigg), the girls plot to lose their virginity to the boys in the private school across the lake.  In the book, however, the story becomes an exercise in capitalism as the girls sell their services to the boys.  They have a product, and it’s a seller’s market, if you know what I mean!  While the idea of prostitution is debated, the fulfillment of their sexual needs is paramount.  I love the idea of the girls working out a “tier” system of services and specific pricing.  This movie is proof-positive women belong in the workplace.  Sorry.  At least in management and production.

I wonder if there is a place in the world of film today for a movie like Boarding School.  I think the trivialization of such a hot-button issue as underage sex and willful prostitution would trigger (hate to use that word) massive protests and outrage.  If a movie like this were being made today, the material would have to be handled with sensitivity and sympathy, which would drain all the life out of it.  Think of Boarding School as a reverse-gender variation on Screwballs, except, you know, good.  In fact, the only issue I have with the film is the hideous dubbing on the American version.  I would love to see a cleaned-up European version of the movie.  Erotic movies of this nature received endless play on cable television, specifically The Movie Channel, but because of their pedigree being produced and distributed overseas, they often attained higher notoriety than domestic fare.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “The Rosebud Beach Hotel, 1984”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Booze is alright for the younger generation. But when you arrive at the twilight of life, there’s nothing like a hit from some good shit to mellow you out!”

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The Rosebud Beach Hotel, 1984 (Peter Scolari), Almi Pictures

I can’t help but feel for Peter Scolari, a gifted actor and spokesman, a natural comedian and entertainer. Scolari was the other half of the Bosom Buddies, a television sitcom that ran for two seasons on ABC, between 1982 and 1984. The show was obstensibly about two guys, best friends, who dress up as woman so they can afford the cheap rent in an apartment exclusively tailored for women. Kip (Tom Hanks) is uh … crazy about the blonde, and Henry, the writer of the duo, thinks this experience will make a great book. I loved the show, but more importantly I loved the chemistry of the two leads. We all know what happened to Mr. Hanks, but Scolari’s career took a different turn.

Scolari continued to work in television, as Michael on the popular Newhart from 1984 to 1990. During that time, he appeared in the occasional movie; The Rosebud Beach Hotel among them. Here he plays Elliot, the uptight fiancé to Colleen Camp’s prim Tracy. Camp’s father, played for roughly five minutes, by Christopher Lee, gives Elliot a managerial position at a hotel he owns in Florida, but he has a plan up his sleeve to destroy the hotel and collect the insurance money. There seems to be no reason for Lee’s action, other than that his business is failing, however when we first see the hotel, it is brimming with activity and clientele. The screenplay takes one too many shortcuts when it comes to explaining character motivation, and the whole thing plays like an extended episode of Three’s Company.

Next comes a subplot where, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, Camp suspects Scolari of having an affair with Playboy model Monique Gabrielle. Meanwhile Camp is being seduced into having an affair of her own. Mix in a lot of gratuitous nudity, the Currie sisters – Marie and Cherie, and their rock music tendencies, and you’ve got something that makes even less sense than when it started. I feel like the movie was shot in a couple of hours. The producers promised a party and turned on their cameras when everybody arrived. The photography is terrible. I’ve never seen a beach photographed so unattractively. This movie makes me want to stay home.

otel-nikomu-ne-skazhu-scene-2

Colleen Camp is usually a dependable actress, but in this movie, she is absolutely terrible. Her “acting” consists of feigning surprise, lots of eye-rolling, and a ridiculously affected accent. I wondered if it was her fault or that of the director, Harry Hurwitz. She was much better in Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3. This is another example of a movie that I enjoyed as a kid, but now look at and believe to be terrible. I believe that’s three so far, if you’re keeping track. The movie had four writers, for crying out loud, but the script plays like a 14-page coloring book (with nudity)!

The cast includes Fran Drescher (Doctor Detroit), Eddie Deezen (every nerd/geek from every eighties movie ever made, including WarGames), Chuck McCann (They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way – another personal favorite of mine), and Hamilton Camp (Twice Upon a Time). Unbelievable to have a cast of all these funny, talented people and I didn’t laugh once. Not once.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.