General

Smile Baggage

A few days ago I had a chip in my left front tooth repaired, and I keep going to mirrors and smiling at them. The dental assistant did a really great job. It’s really hard to tell that there was a chip for 15+ years.

But I’ll probably be back to hating my smile again in a day or two, after the novelty has worn off. That’s neither here nor there… I’ve never liked to smile. Part of that stems from my lifelong discomfort with my teeth (Grandma, rest her soul, would inspect and comment on them every time we visited), but another reason I’ve never been a grinner comes from the fact that I am not a cheerful person, by and large. Most of the time, I’m neutral… happy is too strong a word for my usual mood, and I don’t like to go about aimlessly smiling (I do enough of that at work). But even as a kid, the constant pressure to smile and “be happy” all the time irked me. At school, they wouldn’t stop taking yearbook photos until everyone was smiling. The worst of it was when I was graduating… it was 87 degrees, somebody had already passed out, and because our caps and gowns were very light-colored, the tall people were getting blinded… but it was emphasized that the session would not end until everyone grinned (I thought of Sean Connery circa 1963 and bared my teeth. It was the last photo.)

The W.C. Fields quote, “just start every day out with a smile and get it over with,” sums up my feelings beautifully.

Especially when, as a woman, a lot of people tell me to smile… that I’ll get wrinkles if I don’t… I’ll look prettier if I smile… the usual litany of garbage. I know I’m quite ornamental, but there’s more to me than that. Besides…  some days there are other things to think about. Or just the fact that I’m up, about and civil is a victory. I don’t need unsolicited editorials. This was especially true in graduate school, when I was often physically sick and/or anxious or depressed.

Speaking of which… I don’t know how common this particular pressure to smile is, and whether it’s segregated by gender (although I suspect it’s more aimed at females), but in college I once received a lecture about how it was important to smile because not smiling at someone might be the final straw that pushes them to self-harm or suicide. It’s possible, of course, but that whole lecture never sat well with me. It was a lot of pressure, and it seemed too broad, considering that the fuss was about a very specific dorm issue (that I wasn’t even aware of).  But it still comes down to not smiling for yourself, but smiling aimlessly for the benefit of the rest of the world.

It’s heavy emotional labor, acting happy for the benefit of everybody else. It’s tiring. And there’s just not always time for it. There’s courtesy and respect, and there’s being a Stepford. Or a Smylex victim (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBWRHUVH3Z4).

And on that note, I’ll leave you. Because the Joker is always a tough act to follow (and live). Unless you’re Batman, and if you’re Batman, no one will tell you smile without fear of losing teeth. Just noting.

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Top 11 Scariest Performances #8 Danny DeVito

Be careful what you throw in the sewer.

Be careful what you throw in the sewer.

I’m not going to lie.  The Penguin scared the bejeezus out of me when I first saw Batman Returns (1992).  He still scares me, but not as much.  And my brother is still scared of Catwoman, but that’s another matter altogether.

The make-up artist gets a nod here because DeVito probably wouldn’t be as frightening if he wasn’t so… monstrous here.  But his acting gets a ton of points, too, and then some for just acting underneath all that… stuff.  BR‘s big three are humans who identify with animals better than they do with other humans: bats, cats, and penguins.  The real villain is the most human one, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), but while he is despicable, he’s not really scary.

The Penguin, on the other hand, is just as canny and calculating as Shreck, but utterly savage.  DeVito invests all of the Penguin’s dialogue with that roughness, even when the character is trying to act smooth and charming.  He can never escape from what he is, and when he finally snaps and proclaims himself an animal– by golly you believe it.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B33GH4nW_gM.)

He’s charismatic.  He’s cold-blooded.  He can give a rallying extemporaneous speech to his troops, but can be lured around with a raw fish.  He can smile and murder while he smiles.  And then eat you.  Probably.

Whether you think Mr. Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot will turn you into sushi or not, he’s still a memorable, scary villain.  Far more frightening than anything in those “realistic” new Batman movies (yes, that’s a soapbox).

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Top 10 Women in Horror Movies #9 Maria

Maria

The true Maria.

Metropolis— another silent German Expressionist film from the ’20s (1927 to be exact)… this time directed by the great Fritz Lang.  This film straddles the fine line between horror and science fiction, but for the intents and purposes of this project, we’ll call it horror.

The movie takes place in a futuristic city (rather reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Gotham in his two Batman movies) where the rich live on the top level, and the proletariat, who keep the city from literally collapsing (due to the way it is structured) live and labor in deplorable conditions underground.  The top level leader’s son, Freder, accidentally learns of the underclass when he meets Maria, a prophetess who preaches to the people below, giving them hope and advocating a non-violent solution to their plight.  Freder admiringly tells his father, Jon, of her, not knowing that he will want to destroy her.  To do this, he kidnaps her and has the mad scientist, Rotwang, create a mechanical double not of Jon’s deceased wife, but of Maria in order to destroy her credibility.  Chaos ensues.

A lot of truly great talent made this film possible, and the actress who played Maria and her wicked double, Brigitte Helm.  Both women are completely different (even in their facial expressions and movements), and both wield a great deal of power.  They are both eloquent speakers and charismatic leaders who have the power to prevent, start, and stop riots.  Admittedly my knowledge of Weimar cinema is sketchy, but even in Pre-Code America, a woman wielding that kind of power (religious and political) is unusual.  Also, the true Maria is never a damsel in distress.  She gets kidnapped and scared, yes, but once Freder lets her out, she takes charge of the situation again while maintaining her principles of non-violence.  What a woman!  What a leader!

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