I wrote it with a kind of abandon I had never known in words before. I worked hard, but with the air of a joyful experiment. I had no idea what it was I'd written when I finished, but soon enough I realized I'd embarked on something meaningful.
In terms of the influence and backstory of this piece, a lot of it is right there: my experience at Les Troyens, which still stands almost totally alone in a lifetime of consuming art; my abiding interest in star studies (what it means when we look at/identify with/reimagine movie stars, either as themselves or as other people) (read Ty Burr's terrific Gods Like Us for more); what goes on between and inside women in terms of beauty, body, innate talent or lack thereof.
I set out to write with this weird idea about God granting blessings to everyone in the same amounts but uneven proportions. That is, Kathy Ireland is really beautiful, with a body that - without a lot of effort on her part, it would seem - meets the ideal (current) standard of beauty, and she's great in front of a still camera. But she has a terrible voice, little acting talent, and a bad walk. I, meanwhile, am pretty average at beauty, weight, voice, and walk, but I too have virtually no acting talent and I'm no good in front of a camera. (Our brains are difficult to measure.)
It's like whoever made me and Kathy started out with the same amount of fairy dust but parceled it out in different amounts into the various categories.
Above: me. Below: definitely not me.
In D&D you distribute skill points in this way, and the character will meet her destiny based in part on your distribution.
I've thought about all this particularly with regard to Great Men - Gandhi and his self-sacrifice and his horrendous treatment of young women, Nixon and his lack of moral fiber and his brilliant leadership. But I don't really know how to write about Great Men, and I know very well how to write about movies.
Once I started writing, the piece had ideas of its own, and wouldn't listen when I told it to be about these last few paragraphs. So I discarded the idea that led me toward writing about Kathy Ireland and drove on into opera instead. Performance. What goes on above vs. what goes on underneath. What I imagine vs. when I don't imagine (which is almost never).
Soon after, I wrote "You Must Know that I Mean Well" (not yet published), which is about Gone with the Wind, Django Unchained, racism, and old wives' tales. Then, I wrote "The Girl on the Bike," which follows the model of "Underside" with a lot more precision and is about The Wizard of Oz. Then, I wrote "Bright White American Smile" (not yet published), which is about Singin' in the Rain, deception, and my teeth. I am currently slogging through an essay about Apocalypse Now, a photograph of a Vietnam POW returning home, and my father. I have plans for one about Last Tango in Paris and bodies, and one about Jeanne Dielman and having my apartment cleaned.
This little lark, which started with Kathy Ireland and my astonishment that I was allowed to write this way, is (obviously) developing into an essay collection. But I don't know when I'll finish. I'm so pleased that Rivet has given me a home for the beginning, and I can't wait to see where it will all end.
A few notes to the reader -
- Bryan Hymel is an astonishing talent and you should buy his CD of French arias. You can get a DVD of him in Troyens, too, although it's a different production than the one I saw.
- Yes, Alien from L.A. really is that bad. It was MSTed, thank God, and I believe it was the very first MST I ever saw.
- I don't know if I've portrayed Streep fairly, but you can watch the relevant Oscars speech on YouTube. I have a great deal of respect for her and the story is meant only to compliment her.
- I don't mean to speak negatively of Kathy Ireland, either, but her voice truly was awful in the 1980s. She seems to have improved it a good deal since. And, for the record, she seems to be a brilliant businesswoman; more proof that whatever's handing out the fairy dust has ideas of its own.