It is a sad day when a woman loses her cat to the heater. ‘Yes, it may keep you warm at night,’ I tell Fina coldly, ‘but will it talk to you? Or feed you? Or sing you special cat songs when it comes home from work?’
I finally got around to watching ‘Twilight’ last night, and without a cat on my lap, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected. I didn’t expect to enjoy it much at all mind you, but it was still a disappointment. R hated it as well. ‘I can’t believe you’re actually watching that tripe!’ he exclaimed incredulously, when I put it in the DVD player. ‘I mean, my IQ’s dropping just being in the same vicinity as it.’
So greatly were his faculties impaired, in fact, that he was unable to even negotiate his way out of the room. He spent the next two hours lying on the couch pretending to sleep (he provided quite a bit of warmth, but was no cat), one eye permanently squinched open, every so often interjecting with disgusted comments like ‘This is such drivel!’ or ‘I just can’t believe Stephanie Meyer outsold ‘The Israel Lobby and the Holocaust Industry’ (I can, oddly enough.)
‘Shhh,’ I told him after a while. ‘I’m trying to watch.’ The plot was getting more involved, and there was something funny about Edward: I had a suspicion he might just be a vampire. For those who haven’t read the books, seen the films or left the house in the past three years – spoiler alert: Edward is indeed a vampire. His eyes change colour, he sparkles in sunlight, he moves with superhuman speed and he has no heartbeat. I know, it’s far-fetched and hard to believe but fiction often makes these demands on us.
For me, the main problem with the film was Edward, AKA Robert Pattinson – not with the fact that he was a vampire, or had a hairstyle like Elvis, or was a terrible actor with stilted, wooden delivery. No, the main problem was that he was a teenager. (And just to pre-empt the objections of any dedicated ‘Twilight’ fan, yes, I realise he’s actually two-hundred years old and simply stuck in a seventeen year old’s body, but that doesn’t count. I’m a deeply superficial person and what’s on the outside is what matters.)
The problem with teenage boys is that they are just not sexy – at least not to females above the age of say, eleven. I am not just saying this because it is possible that at some stage in the future I may wish to teach in a high-school again (they say that insanity is a recurring phenomenon after all), but merely because it is a fact: teenage boys are not sexy. Regardless of their chiselled jaws, perfectly tousled hair, or smoothly rippling abdominal muscles, they cannot be taken seriously as objects of lust: they try to brood, and it looks like they’re sulking; they burn with repressed desire and it looks like they’re leering at your chest; they explode with fury, and they’re having a tantrum and you feel like grounding them. If Edward was 43, I’d have liked both the film and book a lot more. (Interesting anthropological aside: I’ve spoken to male friends about adolescent boys not being sexy and, oddly enough, they say this theory is not true in relation to teenage girls. But back to the film…)
I felt the special effects could have been dramatically improved as well. OK, I realise that this was fundamentally a film aimed at teenage girls and women, and that watching chick-flicks for the special effects is akin to watching Woody Allen movies for the action or Arnold Schwarzenegger films for the witty dialogue – but this was just too B-grade. When Edward flew through the forest with Bella on his back for instance, I’m pretty sure he was on one of those flying foxes. I even thought I glimpsed a cable at one point.
And the bit where he reveals himself in the sunlight: that was an anti-climax if ever I saw one. The scene is prefaced with a typically uncontrived, idiomatic speech by Edward: ‘The reason we do not venture into the sunlight is our incredible beauty. Our skin sparkles like the refracted shards of ten thousand shattered crystals and all who see us have to avert their eyes from our startlingly resplendent radiance.’ (Ok, he doesn’t say exactly this, but words to that effect.) He takes a deep breath, and steps into a forest clearing where sunbeams slant down through the moss-laden branches. Slowly, he bares his chest. The tinkling enchantment music begins; he is enveloped in a haze of gold dust, as when Cinderella is magically transformed from kitchen drudge into princess – and what do we get when the glistening haze clears? A pasty-skinned teenager with a few lacklustre sparkles on his chest.
It wasn’t quite the stunning transformation I had anticipated. I was expecting him to look more like one of those famous gold statues of the Buddha. Or perhaps that robot from Star Wars. I squinted and moved closer to the screen. ‘Does he look different to you?’ I asked R, who had given up the pretence of being asleep and was feigning absorption in ‘The Rise and Fall of the Working Classes’ instead. ‘He’s meant to be sparkling.’
‘He’s a little bit shiny,’ he said dubiously.
‘It looks like he’s nipped out and put on some glimmering moisturiser from the Body Shop,’ I said. (Fina provided no opinion on the issue as she was busy toasting her paws individually in front of the heater.) Now, without knowing any exact figures, I’m positive the film had quite a large budget, so why they decided to opt for these DIY special effects is a mystery to me. It’s not as if they blew all their cash on big-name Hollywood stars.
Having said this, though, one thing I did like about the film was the protagonist, Bella – AKA, Kristen Stewart. Actually, this may be overstating it. I should probably say that she was one of the things I didn’t wholly object to, as I wasn’t overly fond of her wardrobe. She had the typical indie look going: flannelette shirts and jeans, skivvies underneath those short sleeved, button-up shirts that mechanics and people who work in bowling alleys used to wear. (Were they the actors own clothes, perhaps?) I wanted more lace, long skirts and trailing, frilly things. I wasn’t expecting her to traipse around in full Gothic regalia with corsets, gloves and lashings of red velvet, but thought a few Romantic touches wouldn’t go amiss. Impractical clothing would at least give a context for some of her notorious klutziness.
I can recall the furore when the series first took off and Bella-bashing was all the rage: she was too passive and powerless, constantly falling over (see above) and requiring rescue – a bad role model for women. (I also recall a lot of reviewers complaining that she was too pale but I’m just going to let that one ride.) I find nothing more irritating than this clunky ‘girl power’ imperative – the notion that a woman who wears cargo pants, does karate and likes messing around in tanks is somehow an empowering role model – and I hate books where heroines are described as ‘feisty’, ‘plucky’, ‘spunky’ or anything even remotely like that. Bella’s helplessness wasn’t a stumbling block for me, then. (Incidentally, I was reading an interview with Tolm Coibin in ‘Spectrum’ the other day where he spoke about the heroine of his latest novel ‘Brooklyn’, a character he describes as being written in ‘a minor key’: ‘Eilis is someone who by her nature is a second daughter… She’s not brave, and has always had everything important done for her. Everything about her is withheld. She is holding her breath, as if she’s afraid that by breathing out she’ll offend somebody.’ Now this sounds exactly like my type of novel. I’m going to go out and buy a copy as soon as I finish writing this.)
It seems ridiculous that we should indict a book for its heroine’s limitations. Since when have we demanded that literature give us positive role models? I mean, people don’t go around pillorying Raskolnikov, Anna Karenina, and Faust for not setting good examples. Nobody suggests that reading ‘Lolita’ might turn you into a paedophile, so why should reading ‘Twilight’ transform an adolescent girl into a fragile victim incapable of looking after herself? Teenagers, as much as anyone else, know that characters are not there to be emulated, but to be used as springboards in the creation of their own identities. We critique them, testing our own feelings and behaviours against theirs. And sometimes they just allow an author to tell a good story.
Anyway, enough about ‘Twilight’. If anyone wants a really good book about vampires, I suggest ‘The vampire is just not that into you’ by Vlad Mezrich (I suspect this is a pseudonym.) This book is hilarious! It has diagrams helping you work out ‘Is he a goth, emo, gamer or vampire?’ After a scent to drive him wild? Consider fear, desperation, adrenaline, longing or blood. There’s also questionnaires to help you discover exactly what type of vampire is right for you: his signature style is mainly capes and tight-fitting suits, though on special occasions he’ll show up as a bat? You’ve got a Vlad the Impaler on your hands. His preferred term of address to you is ‘My unbearably Fragile Human Love. Leave me! No, stay!’? You have an Edward!
Perhaps you want to write a poem for your immortal beloved; the book has a section providing helpful rhymes for words you’ll probably want to use (Fang: hang, sang, clang, K.D.Lang. Blood: stud, flood, mud, scud (like the missile), cud. ) And for after love dies, there’s a list of useful affirmations to help you get over him: ‘Pastel is not a dirty word.’ ‘It is not abnormal to want a date in the daytime.’ ‘It is not worth it to put Fluffy in danger every time my boyfriend comes over.’ I loved this book.
… It’s cold today, one of those stark grey sunless days when it can’t decide whether or not it wants to rain. Winter is almost here. I just went to the bedroom to get a jumper and passed the cat sitting sphinx-like in front of the heater in the manner of an eastern mystic worshipping at a shrine. The heater is not on but this makes no difference to her: she is in love with its potential. She narrowed her eyes at me menacingly as I passed; her way of requesting that I make it produce the magical warmth. ‘Not a chance, Finabelle,’ I said sweetly, still upset at her choosing it over me the other day. But perhaps I’ll put it on later tonight – when we watch ‘New Moon.’