September 2022 Viewing Diary

The Deep End (2022; d. Jon Kasbe)
I’m into cults but I actively avoid woo-woo, so somehow Teal Swan escaped my radar. Well, she’s on my radar NOW. This Netflix doc is extraordinary because Teal Swan participated in it, she allowed the camera crew to enter her home and inner circle. Is this due to vanity? She assumed she would come off looking good? She is rather frightening and the footage of her workshops are truly disturbing. The whole “repressed memory” thing is scarily persistent. It’s been debunked by psychologists, psychiatrists, over and over again, and still it persists. Isn’t it incredible that so many people witnessed Satanic murders of babies as children and yet … there were no missing persons reports for missing babies, no coroners’ inquests, nothing about all the murdered babies across the land. There’s one really chilling moment where Teal Swan’s assistant – this brainwashed woman, Ugh, it was so sad – described her own “ritual abuse” as a child, where she witnessed her parents or babysitters or whatever – holding babies over a fire, grilling them alive. The interviewer off-camera asks, “Why were they doing that?” For a second, this woman looked confused – a teeny tiny moment of cognitive dissonance – In HER world, such revelations are not questioned. Ever. This is a total shitshow and very dangerous. And Teal is an intriguing subject for the camera. Her VOICE is so interesting: it’s hypnotic. I was also fascinated by her use of curse words. It feels very deliberate and imposed and over-determined. It’s a way to dominate and threaten.

Roustabout (1964; d. John Rich)
Elvis and Barbara Stanwyck! The romance here doesn’t really make any sense – they rarely do in Elvis movies – but he looks fantastic – that black leather jacket! – and there are scenes between Elvis and Stanwyck that spark. She’s so good, so “in it”, such a pro, and you can almost see him appreciating her during their scenes together. He rises to her level. These are equally balanced scenes. People who say he can’t act have no idea what they’re talking about. THEY can’t act, that’s the real issue.

We Are as Gods (2021; d. David Alvarado, Jason Sussberg)
The more I think about this documentary and the de-extinction movement, the ikkier it all seems. And I should have done more digging into Stewart Brand. Poke a little bit and all kinds of shitty gross things are uncovered. I reviewed for Ebert.

True Things (2022; d. Harry Wootliff)
I really grooved to the emotional intensity of this, and its frankness about obsession and sex, about how we can be narcotized by “bad”-ness, that something that is “bad” for you has a much stronger pull than something that is recognizably good and normal. I reviewed for Ebert.

Girl Happy (1965; d. Boris Sagal)
Along with Viva Las Vegas, this is peak Elvis Formula Movie. We also get Elvis in drag.

Elvis (2022; d. Baz Luhrmann)
Once more unto the breach.

Tickle Me (1965; d. Norman Taurog)
One of my faves of Elvis’ movies and it’s really barely known outside hard-core fans. The movie takes place on a “fat farm” in the desert, where Elvis works as a ranch hand, and distracts the women from their diet goals by singing and wreaking havoc. Stupid, right? Add to that a ghost town – a haunted old Western hotel – a flashback to gold-rush times – hidden gold – a kidnapping plot – and some good old-fashioned quid-pro-quo workplace sexual harassment (i.e. Elvis’ lady boss propositions him and tells him she’ll up his salary if he … you know) … like, what is going on here. Well, if you think of this movie as a spoof and a parody – with tongue firmly in its cheek – an inside-joke, where every single person is in on the joke – including Elvis, especially Elvis – then the whole thing shifts into focus. It’s hilarious and confident and stupid and entertaining. They know what they’re doing. Nobody thinks they’re making a serious movie. They are literally spoofing themselves. It’s super fun. Plus Elvis does an INSANE number early on … I wrote a whole piece about this number, and what he’s doing, because it’s key to understanding him and the impact he had. Seriously: what he is doing here is nuuuuuuuuuuts.

Harum Scarum (1965; d. Gene Nelson)
We’re moving into the dark era (with a couple of shining moments). But in general: the Grimness begins now. I think it’s important to point out that Elvis Movies weren’t the only shitty movies happening in the mid-60s. It was a bad era for movies. The studio system was crumbling. As a way to fight back, movies suffered from gigantism (Cleopatra, Hello Dolly, Dr. Doolittle) which bankrupted everyone. Beach Blanket Bingo. A complete denial of the social reality was epidemic. The 1950s film industry addressed issues such as race relations, alcoholism, infidelity, mental illness, sexuality … the mainstream 60s movies snapped into a puritanical chaste attitude which was actually new in the industry. You watch movies in the 30s and 40s and the subject matter is wide-ranging, often socially conscious, and unafraid of tough subjects. So. Back to Elvis. Harum Scarum is bad – very bad – but – scarily – it is not the low point. The low points are to come. I feel I must point out though: The man made 31 movies, 3 a year, for over a decade and … there are more good ones than bad ones. The fact that this is not common knowledge is just outrageous to me. That’s why I’m here.

Frankie and Johnny (1966; d. Fred de Cordova)
Bad. It feels endless. Good cast though – including Harry Morgan! The “black cat” number is good, although the sound mix is all off (a common feature in these mid-60s soundtracks). There’s one number that comes alive – purely because of Elvis’ self-belief – but you’ll have to watch it to figure out which one it is.

Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966; d. Mickey Moore)
As far as I’m concerned, this is the nadir. It’s not even a movie. He barely has a musical number. It’s a travelogue. The one song with any “pep” is given to a child. The whole thing is insulting and unprecedented in terms of a major star. I literally can’t think of an equivalent. Elvis was such a professional he always “showed up” even for the silly stuff – he did his best – but here he looks openly bored. I almost clock him rolling his eyes a couple of times. Who can blame him.

Spinout (1966; d. Norman Taurog)
Light from the caves. This is fun. This has Shelley Fabares in it – she appeared as a love interest in three of his movies – they have legitimate chemistry (here she is particularly adorable) and it zips and purrs and crackles. Notice that Norman Taurog is at the helm. Taurog knew how to handle this formula (with one notable exception). Keep it moving. Add complications. Add women to the mix. Throw in the songs. Action scenes. Goof off. Never ever leave room for dead air and do not – under any circumstances – take any of it seriously. Give the audience a good time at LEAST. Spinout also features a girl drummer – which had an impact.

Easy Come, Easy Go (1967; d. John Rich)
Elsa Lanchester as a wacko yoga instructor! So this weirdo movie involves an Elvis-Movie version of the counterculture, plus a shipwreck with possible buried gold, and interminable underwater sequences where Elvis (or his double) attempts to defuse a floating sunken bomb and/or search for the buried treasure. The songs are bad. He looks amazing. But the Elvis Movie has, at this point, lost its way (with Spinout a brief respite)

Double Trouble (1967; d. Norman Taurog)
Here is the notable exception to Taurog’s Elvis movie track record. This is some really bleak shit. However: Michael Murphy is in it and he and Elvis have a deadly karate match. There’s also a connection with What’s Up, Doc? (including Michael Murphy) which I meant to write about here – and makes me think – no, makes me KNOW – that Peter Bogdanovich and/or Buck Henry were very very familiar with Double Trouble. Imagine being influenced by Double Trouble. lol It’s really bad. Everyone involved should be run out of town on a rail for making Elvis sing “Ol’ MacDonald”. To be fair though: Elvis, what would have happened if you just said “No, I’m not doing that”. Why couldn’t you just say “No, I’m not doing that.” I promise you nothing bad would have happened. Not by 1967. You’re 32 years old. Say “No, I’m not doing that.” I beg you.

Clambake (1967; d. Arthur H. Nadel)
Nadir #2. Even his costumes are bad. He’s clearly gained weight (although his weight fluctuated wildly) and his costumes accentuate the weight gain as opposed to hide it. The movie feels endless except for the interactions with Shelley Fabares, who always brings a sweet sense of truth and charm to the screen. Again, you can clock Elvis not giving a fuck, which was rare.

Stay Away, Joe (1968; d. Peter Tewksbury)
There are many many problems with this movie – including racism, called out in the reviews at the time (lest the younguns feel like saying “Stuff like this was accepted back then.” No it wasn’t. Not in 1968. History exists. Learn.) The book on which it was based also was controversial for its stereotypes, etc. So okay there’s that. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s 1968, Elvis is one year away from being released from the prison of his contract, and the formula – already toppling – has now crashed completely. Elvis is unleashed. He’s lean, gorgeous, modern, and sexual. Elvis movies were mostly chaste – there’s no chaste-ness here.

In fact, in one scene it appears that he has sex with three separate women (all of whom seem very happy about it). This is the same year as the comeback special, and it shows. He looks fantastic. He rolls around in the dirt with a pigpile of men, laughing hysterically. He’s part of an ensemble. He only sings a couple of songs. And then there’s this

…… see what I mean?

Plus, he has a sexually suggestive super hot scene with the great Joan Blondell.

This movie is notorious for the song Elvis was forced to sing about a recalcitrant bull. Elvis was literally in tears, begging the powers-that-be that the recording of this song would never see the light of day. Not an exaggeration. He cried. It was that bad. It IS that bad.

The Justice of Bunny King (2022; d. Gaysorn Thavat)
Essie Davis continues to astonish. I reviewed for Ebert.

Sins of Our Mother (2022; d. Skye Borgman)
Wow. I knew the bare bones of this story, but never dug into it further. Now I know more than I ever wanted to know, and this shit is legit chilling. Like, I’m truly freaked out. Those poor children.

Speedway (1968; d. Norman Taurog)
Thank you, Taurog, for re-asserting the formula, while also revitalizing it. There are some low points – the song to the IRS (the choreography is pretty funny: still though, Elvis isn’t a musical star who does choreography. Stop trying to make him something he’s not.) Nancy Sinatra is a very strange cinematic figure, but her number is fun, and the whole nightclub set is worth the price of admission (as are the numbers Elvis does there). Quentin Tarantino obviously felt the same way. Damn, he looks good in this movie. It hurts.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968; d. Norman Taurog)
There is zero reason this movie shouldn’t be counted as a pleasing and entertaining ’60s romantic-comedy romp. It’s superior to many of the others in that particular genre. I’ve written a lot about it, and also spoke of it in the talk I gave in Memphis on Elvis’ movie career. I wrote about it here – and I included it in my piece on Elvis for Film Comment.

Charro! (1969; d. Charles Marquis Warren)
Formula no more. Elvis only sings the theme song (and it’s a beautiful almost operatic number, steeped in melodrama). This is Elvis’ semi-Spaghetti-Western, and he’s very good in it. So is Ina Balin as the love interest slash local bordello Madame. Again, there is no reason this movie shouldn’t be remembered. It can be enjoyed on its own terms. Unlike, say, Tickle Me or Girl Happy, you don’t need any context to understand what’s happening. Elvis is IN this, but it’s not “an Elvis movie”. I mean, come on, he has a raggedy beard. Plus, he works his angles!

The Trouble with Girls (1969; d. Peter Tewksbury)
No apologies need to be made for this movie. You do not need to grade it on an Elvis curve. (Not that Elvis needs to be graded on a curve – but his movies require a little adjustment in order to understand what the hell is even going ON). But this? It’s just a good movie, period, and almost totally unknown. It’s an ensemble movie. Elvis isn’t even the lead, although he is the central figure. But long long sections go by where he’s not even in it. The cast is all very good (Dabney Coleman is great, as are all the women, particularly Marlyn Mason and Sheree North – plus Vincent Price is in it) – and Elvis gets to sing gospel. All of the songs are justified, woven into the action (the movie is about a traveling show on the Chautauqua circuit) … plus there’s a murder mystery, plus Tewksbury has some Altman-like effects – long zooms and pans … giving it a very different look and feel from the normal Elvis fare. I recommend this movie with no reservations. The title is meaningless. The movie has nothing to do with “the trouble with girls”. It’s about the end of an era – the Chautauqua – and a group of people trying to find their place in a changing world. It’s also about Elvis in a white suit and Elvis’ sideburns.

Change of Habit (1969; d. William Graham)
Elvis’ final narrative feature. He plays an inner-city doctor, because of course he does. Mary Tyler Moore is the love interest. I refer to this as “Elvis’ Vatican II movie”.

Sirens (2022; d. Rita Baghdadi)
I just reviewed this documentary about an all-girl metal band in Lebanon. I highly recommend it.

Blonde (2022; d. Andrew Dominick)
Percolating about this phantasmagorical body-horror ode to the 20th century pagan Death Cult which has little if anything to do with Marilyn Monroe.

Strawberry Blonde (1941; d. Raoul Walsh)
A fave. Excellent performances (unsurprisingly) from James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Olivia de Havilland, and Jack Carson. Subtle, too: deep character development, each person has an arc.

Out of the Fog (1941; Anatole Litvak)
Moody, grim, gripping moral and ethical dilemmas, insightful character acting by all involved: John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, Thomas Mitchell, John Qualen. Thomas Mitchell is, unsurprisingly, absolutely heartbreaking. He has moments that are legitimately difficult to look at. Interesting to consider the following year Ida Lupino and Thomas Mitchell would team up again in Moontide – which I wrote about for Film Comment

where their relationship is totally different. In Out of the Fog they are father and daughter, and what a beautiful complex relationship they create. In Moontide she is a tough girl – read: prostitute – saved from suicide, only to be raped by Thomas Mitchell’s closeted gay psychopath. Terrifying: one of Mitchell’s very best performances, but then again, with Mitchell it’s hard to choose.

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29 Responses to September 2022 Viewing Diary

  1. mutecypher says:

    I keep meaning to ask… who’s the current background? That’s definitely a striking look!

  2. Lyrie says:

    Hiiiiii Mutecypher, what’s up? :)

    I promised myself I’d stay in my (Supernatural) lane but I…

    //This Netflix doc is extraordinary because Teal Swan participated in it, she allowed the camera crew to enter her home and inner circle. Is this due to vanity? She assumed she would come off looking good? //
    I kept seeing stuff about her on TikTok, I had to check it out. Isn’t it just fascinating? I mean, she’s not the only narcissist who sees herself as the true victim, but it’s really fascinating that she was so convinced that film would serve her!

    She’s the typical white woman in how she presents herself as a victim and uses that to manipulate, but she’s also very violent – if only mostly verbally, at least on camera – in a way that I’ve never seen from women in those types of new-agey cults (I’ve seen some up close).

    It was so heartbreaking to see that man’s love being threatened – he was so brave, in the end, I couldn’t believe the cojones of steel it must take for both of them to escape. Not that were necessarily in any real danger, but she had her hooks so deep in his mind. It haunted me for weeks.

    • mutecypher says:

      Hey Lyrie –

      Good to see your comments! It’s great to be reminded of how much there was to love about SPN. I hope you are doing well.

    • sheila says:

      // I mean, she’s not the only narcissist who sees herself as the true victim, but it’s really fascinating that she was so convinced that film would serve her! //

      Lyrie – I know! She’s been putting out a lot of videos correcting the record since the doc came out and complaining about the “editing” – how it made her look bad. Uh-huh, Teal. It was the editing that made you look bad, not your power-hungry narcissism.

      // she’s also very violent – if only mostly verbally, at least on camera – in a way that I’ve never seen from women in those types of new-agey cults //

      How about the moment when she says during a team meeting that they basically are not allowed to have personal relationships – anything to distract them from the cause – her cause.

      // // It was so heartbreaking to see that man’s love being threatened – he was so brave, in the end, I couldn’t believe the cojones of steel it must take for both of them to escape.//

      That poor woman. I felt so bad for her mother – who was like “I support you but … wait, WHAT are you doing again?” It was like the second she stepped into Teal’s house – or HQ or whatever – the vice started closing in on her.

      I was so curious about the real relationship between Teal and that guy. We only heard it from her side. I don’t buy a word of it. “I escaped from my abuser and drove right to his house and he has been with me ever since.” I would have loved to hear his side of it. Were they in cahoots? Did she snow him? Did she lie to him and he just was such a nice guy he was suckered? But … he was suckered for, what, 15 years? That’s pretty powerful.

      I honestly found the footage of her public meetings to be very frightening – mainly because I actually caught myself being soothed by the sound of her voice at times. I’m admitting this. I had to snap myself out of it. There are things you can do to make yourself more hypnotic – hypnotic techniques (Nancy Salzman with NXIVM was practiced in that) – and Teal definitely has it down. I am not surprised she has a following.

      Her RAGE at the one guy who questioned her “authority” at one of her workshops – he felt the autocratic control and was questioning it – and she went after him – and that’s when the swear words started coming into play. A way of intimidating him. In this new agey setting to hear those words …

      I mentioned this to my sister-in-law and she said she noticed the same thing – the false note in that swearing, that it wasn’t “natural” to her but a tactic – My sister in law – who lived in Salt Lake City – is not a Mormon but worked with Mormons – said it reminded her of Mormon people who broke out of the controls of the religion. They would “try on” new ways of being – as a way of rebelling – to her, the cursing felt very Mormon-motivated. Teal being a “bad girl” by swearing so much. I thought it was an interesting observation and I was glad I wasn’t the only one struck by her odd use of curse words.

      // he had her hooks so deep in his mind. It haunted me for weeks.//

      Me too. I did a Google search for him just to see how he was doing. He seems so susceptible to mind control. And so often people cult-jump – they’re so used to being controlled that they leave one group and immediately look for another group. I hope he and his girlfriend (wife?) are doing okay.

      • Lyrie says:

        //How about the moment when she says during a team meeting that they basically are not allowed to have personal relationships – anything to distract them from the cause – her cause.//
        I understand the psychology of the narcissist disorder pretty well, and seeing it play at a cult level, where it becomes a group thing, is absolutely fascinating and terrifying – one person caught in the trap is one thing, but isolating a whole group! And at the same time, it looks somewhat almost easier? It’s something (cult psychology) I’ve wanted to delve in for a long time but haven’t yet because I felt like I’m pretty susceptible to that kind of crap and that’s a mirror I might not enjoy looking at. BUT I’m old enough now to realize that although I have some traits that would make me a perfect victim – not tethered to a family/community, capable to adapt to a lot of different social settings and espouse others’ ways of thinking (am I “penetrable”? with a poor sense of boundaries? Does that remind us of anyone? ha ha) – I also ask too many questions. Cults have flirted with me, but they never kept me, I’m too weird and always need to know WHY, ha ha.

        All that to say, in personal relationships, it seems to me like they often have to work harder or smarter to justify isolating people, but with groups, the whole us/them is so helped but the idea of a CAUSE. Which is also something that fascinates me in Supernatural – “we do it for the greater good” OH DO YOU? I know, everything brings me back to my obsessions, that’s just how my brain works.

        //I was so curious about the real relationship between Teal and that guy. We only heard it from her side. I don’t buy a word of it. “I escaped from my abuser and drove right to his house and he has been with me ever since.” I would have loved to hear his side of it. Were they in cahoots? Did she snow him? Did she lie to him and he just was such a nice guy he was suckered? But … he was suckered for, what, 15 years? That’s pretty powerful.//

        Sooooo interesting – I never even questioned it! I just totally bought that yeah, he was a nice guy, and I imagine that 15 years living with that kind of a tornado of a person can go by so so fast – it must be drama, elation, war, drama, “enlightenment”, rinse and repeat – exhausting and destabilizing.
        But maybe there is more to it, right.

        //Her RAGE at the one guy who questioned her “authority” at one of her workshops//
        I was SHOCKED she didn’t lose a few people at that moment, honestly. Which can totally work for her anyway.

        // Teal being a “bad girl” by swearing so much.//
        So interesting! It’s smart – you can’t be “caught” being bad off camera when it’s part of your persona, I guess.

        //I did a Google search for him just to see how he was doing. //
        I love that you did that – totally the kind of stuff I could have done. Is he OK?

        • sheila says:

          // I’m too weird and always need to know WHY, ha ha. //

          That is so key!! They don’t want people to question. Just accept what we are saying and you will get the payoff later. I’ve never written about my experience – a couple years’ worth – in what I would call a cult-like organization – very unlike me – but … I got sucked in. and I have always been interested in brainwashing, and stuff – but these people were good and I got sucked in anyway. Not TOTALLY – there was always a part of me that held back … but I knew people – smart people – who held nothing back. I finally just walked away – I was sick of the pressure to invite other people in. That was my breaking point AND my initial boundary – one I never compromised. They were relentless about us inviting other people – I was not going to ask my parents to come to this thing, and my friends, and everyone I knew. I just was like: No. I am not doing that. And I finally FELT the coercion – they had been coercive throughout – but I FELT it in the pressure they put on me to invite other people. I walked away and they pursued me for years. Overall, it was a very interesting experience and – in retrospect – it’s kept me humble. I am interested in all of this stuff – mind control – and that experience showed me that I was not immune to mind control. This organization was what they call an LGAT – large group awareness training – very very effective – 200 people in a room doing the same thing … In general peer pressure doesn’t work on me. I never did shit I didn’t want to do in high school in order to fit in – I just couldn’t be shamed into drinking or doing drugs or having sex – I didn’t want to do those things. My first real experience with peer pressure was when I was in my late 20s in the LGAT. That shit WORKS.

          // the whole us/them is so helped but the idea of a CAUSE. //

          Really good point. and SPN shows that some family systems act like a cult!! (Especially the early seasons – Dean as brainwashed, Sam as NOT brainwashed. They got so much mileage out of that!)

          // it must be drama, elation, war, drama, “enlightenment”, rinse and repeat – exhausting and destabilizing. //

          I know!! and she RELIED on him … but … it was so on her terms. I think that maybe the whole Teal Swan thing might not have happened without him. He kept her on track. I couldn’t find out much about him – he hasn’t really spoken or done interviews – I hope that changes.

          It’s amazing that she has a son. Who was never seen and also barely mentioned. What is she like as a mother??

        • sheila says:

          and I LOVED the private investigator – whom Teal hired !!!! – this unassuming lady who looks like a grandma – but boy, did she do her due diligence.

          • Lyrie says:

            //it’s kept me humble. I am interested in all of this stuff – mind control – and that experience showed me that I was not immune to mind control.//

            Can anyone be, or is just a spectrum, and a matter of the right buttons and circumstances for it to work? Maybe a naive question – you tell me, you’re the specialist – but since we’re social animals and our survival depends on community, I imagine that being completely impervious to systems and others’ beliefs can’t be good either.

            I understand that you can’t be too explicit about it, but even what little you say is super interesting. And what can also be the boundaries that make you resist, or the trigger that makes you snap out of it. Brains, man! People!

            //I know!! and she RELIED on him … but … it was so on her terms. //
            Right, he built her – and her business – up, from what I remember. I wonder how he feels about that now.

            //What is she like as a mother??//
            Shudder…

            And yes, the private investigator – no bullshit. “Well, you asked me to investigate, and what I found is not what you want to hear. Do with that what you will.”

          • sheila says:

            // Can anyone be, or is just a spectrum, and a matter of the right buttons and circumstances for it to work? //

            Most people are susceptible to mind control and thought control. We are social beings – and the brain picks up on things, and can be “washed” clean of its prior associations through propaganda. We can see it happening in the big news sites – and how they drum home over and over and over again the same simplistic concerns using the same language. Talking to some of the people who believe this stuff … you can FEEL the brainwashing.

            There’s a really interesting concept in cult studies – called “thought-stopping”. It’s now been co-opted in therapetic circles – but it has more relevance in the study of brainwashing. Another way to think of thought-stopping is “cognitive dissonance” and the avoidance thereof. This happens when propaganda has co-opted the machinations of the brain. Orwell laid it out in 1984 – if you obliterate certain words, you obliterate the CONCEPTS of the words. Control of language means control of thought.

            So a person drenched in propaganda – right-wing or left-wing or any other ideological slant – will recoil when faced with cognitive dissonance. They will label the thought as “wrong” and when they combat the cognitive dissonance it is with a doubling-down of the propaganda language. They have “stopped” the thought – the cognitive dissonant thought – from infiltrating their brain.

            Cognitive dissonance is maybe the most important thing we can encourage in ourselves – to recognize when it’s happening to you – to me – and at least interrogate it. “wait, why am I rejecting this thought being spoken out loud by this other person? what is going on?” Sometimes we reject something because … well, because we will reject guys with tiki torches screaming “Jews won’t replace us.” You know. There’s no cognitive dissonance THERE. I don’t have to interrogate my reaction to fascism, racism, etc.

            But … just an example. This random woman – a fellow film critic – unfriended me on Facebook – for … well, I’m not sure her reason. We only had one interaction, and this was years ago – I wrote something funny about one of my boyfriends – something affectionate – and she came into the comments section like Eeyore, talking about all the “toxic” men she dated, who “gaslit” her after “lovebombing” her and how most men are only after one thing – etc. It was all JARGON. I do not doubt her experiences – but the JARGON is what I noticed. I barely know her thought so all I said was, “I’m sorry you had that experience. My boyfriends have, in general, been really good guys, even if things didn’t work out.” I’m just speaking MY “lived experience”. It really seemed to bother her. Because I wasn’t … conceding ground? Or saying “you’re right I’m wrong”? But … I am talking about MY life, not yours. She came back and didn’t engage with what I said – I believe her coming back was a thought-stopping maneuver. And she said “the patriarchy” and “the misogyny” and “white supremacy” – it was a soup of jargon. I have NO DOUBT this is personal to her – but … I was being personal too and she couldn’t deal with it somehow. It was very weird. I said, “Okay, well, that’s not been my experience with the men in my life. Too many examples on the other side.” Boom. Unfriended.

            I was 100% civil. She was so in the thick of the jargon and what I consider to be propaganda – I can see it in so many writers – voices are being ironed out – everyone is using the same language and terms – this stuff will date itself by next year – anyway, me just saying “Huh, that’s not my experience” – I believe she experienced it as threatening.

            Anyway, I noticed it was happening as it was happening, because of that jargon which she relied on so heavily.

            You know who WASN’T susceptible to brainwashing? John McCain. One of the few. He has actually been “studied” because of this by people who study cults. Why was he able to resist? What was it?? His experiences – the torture, the imprisonment, the possibility of release – and his refusal to take it … all of this makes him an anomaly to … the rest of human history … and a very important person to study.

            // what can also be the boundaries that make you resist, or the trigger that makes you snap out of it. //

            I think the first thing is being able to recognize jargon – and to have a healthy suspicion of jargon. I get that different groups of people have different terms for things, professions have their own language, generations too … so I allow for that. but when a whole language erects itself almost overnight – and you suddenly start hearing it everywhere – on the news, in op-ed columns, and from your friends’ mouths … don’t discount it, not necessarily, but be on guard.

            If I think someone’s acting like a macho dick – then I will just say THAT, I refuse to use the words “toxic masculinity”. This is just one example. Jargon becomes a shorthand – a shortcut.

            So I keep my senses alert for shifts in the language.

            In the realm of the personal – there have been times when I have had a cult-like attitude towards my own life. I would use certain words to describe my life – “scarcity” was a big one -that word is ruined forever for me. And there were times when trusted friends would tell me the truth: “I have no idea what you just said.” “I am really afraid of the words you just used.” My friend Rachel said to me once – “You realize that nothing you just said is true?”

            It was a trigger. It totally snapped me out of my CERTAINTY that I knew what was happening.

            I trusted her too. If someone I didn’t know said that to me in a scornful tone I never would have been able to hear it.

            I feel like I was inoculated against thought/language control by reading 1984 in high school. I don’t know. And so I often disagreed with the group – and I felt the pressure of people wanting to dominate me – to have me toe the party line – this has happened to me in all groups – women groups, political groups, even artistic groups … I just don’t like being told what to think. I’m really really stubborn.

            But … I listened to Teal Swan talk at those large events and…. I felt the pull!!!

            Because I enjoy playing with fire, I even considered buying a ticket to go to one of those events – just to see her in person. I still might do it.

            after all, Alexandra and I TRIED to get brainwashed by Scientology. There’s a reason we are soulmates. Who else would WANT to do something like that??

            But we just wanted to see how it all WORKED and what it was like in there once you got past a certain level.

          • sheila says:

            Lyrie – did you watch The Vow? the series on NXIVM or whatever the hell they called themselves? It’s REALLY good on this – as is India Oxenberg’s 6-ep series on her experiences.

            A season 2 of the Vow is launching next week I think and I cannot WAIT.

  3. Jim Reding says:

    I watched Out of the Fog a few months ago, and the thing that stuck with me the most outside of the performances were those James Wong Howe whip pans. Wow!

    • sheila says:

      I know!! That whole set and mood was incredible. James Wong Howe was just a magician. Criterion is doing a series devoted to him on their channel so it’s been fun to re-visit. There were a couple of scenes where there were wisps of fog floating in the air above the docks – I have no idea how they did that -isolated streaks of low-lying mist – but it just gave this eerie feeling – you could almost smell the docks. I live in a beach town where practically every morning is foggy – sometimes nearly zero visibility – and I drive to get coffee and you literally can see clusters of low-lying mist just hovering there.

      The amount of artistry and work put into these sets is just mind-blowing.

      • Jim Reding says:

        I need to further dig into that series before titles start to expire. Many of them are long time favorites (I’ll never tire of Sweet Smell of Success), but several remain as of yet unseen by me.

        I came across an American Cinematographer interview surrounding the release of Hud where mentioned his frustration with the scene in which the infected cattle are slaughtered. That whole sequence always struck me as starkly downbeat, but he felt the natural landscape didn’t cooperate with him and the clouds prettified it.

        • sheila says:

          Interesting!

          The shadows in Hud are just so beautiful it takes your breath away – it’s like 3/4s of the scene is pitch pitch black, with figures over in the corner, dimly lit.

          He just worked magic. Same thing with Sweet Smell of Success. One of the best “new york” movies – gleam and sleaze and stark contrasts.

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    I love Essie Davis. I assume you’ve seen Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the Australian series that she’s probably most known for in America. If not, I’m pretty sure you’d like it. Among its many virtues is the fact that Davis’s title character gets to choose when and with whom she’ll sleep with, she enjoys it, and she doesn’t get punished for it. It’s sad that this is still startling to see in a movie or TV show in 2022. She was fantastic as Ned Kelly’s mother in The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019). The scene where she rejects the rich English woman’s offer to essentially adopt Ned is worth the price of the movie by itself. I now want to see The Justice of Bunny King.

  5. Jessie says:

    I feel like the last few months of Ebert reviews for you have been women on the edge of a nervous breakdown! So many interesting titles – Bunny King sounds extraordinary. Curious to see what the next curation will be now that you’ve reached the end of Elvis! That was a fun speed run for me though the latter years of his film career. I had no idea of the pace of it — looking like Mickey Rooney’s MGM years.

    I love Dominik as a filmmaker but I’ve been repelled by everything I’ve seen and read of Blonde, to be honest. Your single line here is the first time I’ve read something about it that makes me feel like it has a point or purpose – interested to read more of your thoughts when you’re ready to share.

    • sheila says:

      // women on the edge of a nervous breakdown! //

      lol I know!! It gives me hope! I do love those stories, if they’re told well and acted well. Like True Things. Yikes. It is so dark! and Bunny King! That movie was truly nerve-wracking – you just want everyone to slow down, take a breath, and try to work something out. But at a certain point, people are beyond working something out. It was really sad. Essie Davis is amazing.

      // I had no idea of the pace of it — looking like Mickey Rooney’s MGM years.
      //

      I know! Elvis was one of the last – maybe THE last – to have a movie contract that draconian, where he had little to no say. He had the same kind of contract Rooney had – or Bette Davis or James Cagney – and Davis and Cagney fought against their contracts back in the 30s. Even SUING Jack Warner for giving them shitty projects. Elvis was stuck in the past – which was weird since he was always such a Present Moment person as an artist. It’s frustrating – he could have easily said, “I am not doing Paradise Hawaiian Style, get me a better script” but by that point it was too late, and Elvis was not a confrontational person (at least interpersonally). Why he was so obedient is one of his great mysteries. He knew he was being asked to tarnish his legacy … I truly don’t think anything bad would have happened if he had said, “Ol Macdonald? You people can go fuck yourselves.” But … he just wasn’t that kind of person. He was a sexpot but he was also a Southern gentleman. So we are left with a very odd legacy.

      and in re: Blonde: (TW for the below. Just in case.)

      I love Dominick too! This project is very strange – and it’s Joyce Carol Oates’ fault – but … honestly it’s another failure to CONCEIVE of Marilyn Monroe beyond a very narrow narrative. Why can’t we conceive of her as a person? Or, not “we”. Why can’t SO MANY conceive of her as a person? Why is it so difficult? To her fans – who are legion – she is so obviously a person, a real woman, a talented actress. Dominick has done himself no favors either with his interviews about the film. My friend Christina Newland – who hated the film – interviewed him for Sight & Sound and … she was very civil in asking her questions, but some of his answers … it’s a shitshow. He assumes his take is everyone’s take. He is actually surprised to hear that Christina and her friends – millennial woman – like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Who can like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, he asks. “Those two women are whores.” He literally says that.

      The obsession with MM’s gynecology is particularly gruesome. There’s one camera angle – literally – or, actually, there are many – from inside her womb, and vaginal canal. Literally … I know it’s amazing Dominick that women have different parts than men have but … Jesus, get OVER it. This goes to my feeling that so many problems in our world – and misogyny – is a result of the fact that women’s sexual organs are on the inside, and therefore men can’t see them and feel like women are “holding out” on them – there’s a part of them that men can’t see and they resent it – or are obsessed by it – they can’t let it go. I’m sorry to be so graphic but it’s Dominick’s fault. Yes, Marilyn Monroe had ovaries. I don’t know why this is such a big deal. Millions of people have ovaries. It’s not some weird thing – unless you really think that having a penis is “the default”.

      Newland reminds him that Marilyn protested McCarthyism – she set up her own productino company in 1955 (unheard of) – she fought against racism by forcing nightclubs to hire Ella Fitzgerald – and on and on. Dominick: “Does anyone care about that at this point?”

      Uhm, yes. Many of us care.

      On the flipside – I have railed against obedient biopics so often I’m bored by myself. So I did appreciate the sheer operatic nature of this thing – and also liked that things like Chekhov (whom Marilyn loved) – and the wonderful Don’t Bother to Knock – is given its due.

      If I remove Marilyn – in all her complexity – from the picture – then some of it is interesting and it’s always interesting to watch – particularly the re-creation of all of these famous images of MM. It made me think about the enduring nature of misogyny, and its gynecological obsessions, its essentialist “women are different from men because they have stuff on the INSIDE” – like, not kidding – it’s that dumb – but I just don’t like Marilyn once again being the symbol of how men are bad and how she was victimized by her own career. Yes, she was treated like shit – yes yes yes – BUT she also created herself – nobody gave her anything – she created this persona – it was all her own – she had gumption, she stuck it out, and her persona saved her and released her. She was PROUD of it, she came from nothing and she created this “thing” that saved her. When the crew cat-called her, she LOVED it. It was validation – and people like that – working class guys – were part of her fan base, and they – unlike the intellectuals – appreciated her in a pure way. She enjoyed pleasing people. The film pathologizes that. Marilyn knew what she was doing. She wasn’t some idiot. Ugh. (The film also seems to not be able to believe that she had any female fans. Dominick’s blind spot, on full display in the Newland interview.)

      I don’t think a movie can be a meditation on misogyny while displaying misogyny in its conception.

      And so I think Dominick is not aware of what he is doing. JCO has her own conception of MM – which Dominick shares – and his over the top approach reflects the massive siren call of the Death Cult of American pop culture – and its obsession with the gruesome, the fragile, the used and abused – like paparazzi flocking around Britney Spears’ house, all as she is clearly having a psychotic break – the love of the Mad Woman – and the inability to conceive of women as anything other than their sexual parts.

      On the flip side, I’ve seen women critics be annoyed at the portrayal of MM’s desire to have a baby. It seems “retro” to these “modern” women. Like it or not, MM was desperate to have a baby – and devastated by her body’s inability to do so. She was terrified of her mother’s mental illness being passed on genetically – but she did feel this absence, and this desire to have a baby – because then it meant she would be a “real woman”. This is a very complicated issue and the film isn’t really designed to address it. Dominick is incapable of addressing it.

      I do think it’s interesting that Elvis and Blonde came out within months of each other. I always put EP and MM together as unique figures in the celebrity firmament. What has happened posthumously goes way way beyond fame. I’d put James Dean there too – where the image – his face – has become more well known than his actual work – but he’s a little bit different because we only have the three movies. (He may be an even more interesting case). Both EP and MM are the patron saints of the Death Cult. Griel Marcus wrote a whole book called Dead Elvis – 50 Cent, of all people, said that “Elvis is more present in his absence than he was when he was here” – and he’s right. who else can you say that about? People flock to EP’s grave on August 16. MM too. Her face is just so well-known – it’s part of the air we breathe. It takes real work to see these people as people – as extraordinary people – but at the end of the day just PEOPLE. (Literary-wise, Sylvia Plath probably qualifies as a Patron Saint of the Death Cult. Reading her recently published correspondence was a revelation – even to me, who’s so familiar with her work – reading her chatty funny letters made me realize that I was also a part of the Death Cult, and I needed to re-think her entirely. It was amazing and I am so appreciative.)

      All of this is why it’s so important to watch MM’s actual work. To watch EP’s actual work. It’s revelatory for those who have a narrow conception of either figure. Wow, MM can act!! think these people. I don’t judge them for not knowing she could act. The culture has not passed down that information properly. Same with EP. Who even remembers Trouble with Girls? No one.

      The good thing about Baz’s movie is it cares about EP’s art. It’s all about the art. It’s about making a case for his art, and redeeming his reputation from the lies and misconceptions. There will be those who refuse to accept this – who are devoted to their view of EP as a sinister figure – and that’s totally their right – but EP’s rep has been in the hands of his enemies for 30, 40 years. Enough is enough. Time for some nuance. The story has not been passed down correctly. Blonde, though, shows almost no interest in her art – except for one good audition scene where you actually see her “at work” – and the scene that allows her to talk intelligently about Chekhov. So … it’s a bummer. I think the scenes where she’s a child are the best.

      This has been way too long!!

      • Jessie says:

        Not too long at all, a very insightful discussion of the movie thank you! I did read Christina’s interview (and the sorry outtake) when it came out and it really put me off. So dumb and gross. I have been wondering what function the obsessive simulacra of Blonde serves — in Christina’s interview Dominik talks about the absurd lengths they go to to replicate various photoshoots, etc — is it simply the extreme end of the recent biopic craze continuum? It didn’t seem like simple replication was something that would interest Dominik. But reading your thoughts it seems obvious that of course he’s not interested in her work or MM as an actor or why so many of us love her in the way of all classic stars where the work and the persona intersect with complexity and joy. Sounds like it’s not able to give an account of why eg Wilder stuck with her or why she is so pleasurable to watch.

        From what you say it sounds like it works best when it approaches Marilyn in that mythic-symbolic space where she disappears under the glare of what she means and what is projected on her. And I get then where that could turn into a phantasmagorical body-horror because to deal with the meaning of MM you have to deal with her flesh — the whole ALLURE of her (like EP) is that she is so thoroughly embodied – but to deal with that he takes a camera into her vagina? That’s where you have to go to get beyond the ‘image’ or ‘symbol’ of MM? oh no!! But then inserted in there as well there’s this fiction of showing us the ‘real’ MM which he’s able to bring zero insight to, because he doesn’t understand her or her work.

        The ‘fleshy problem’ of Marilyn as well is that the casting is surely an impossible task. I liked de Armas in Knives Out and it’s clear she gives her all here but — this is gonna sound terrible but this is why the biopic is a minefield and in particular a MM biopic — the shot in the trailer of her failing to fill out the “I wanna be loved by you” dress is one of the best illustrations of how impossibly embodied Marilyn is, how important the stuff of her body is to her being on screen. Frankly that was the moment where I first wrote the movie off which is not very fair of me. Moreover I don’t think many contemporary actors are very good at that embodied presence on camera, at being absolutely there and owned by the camera while still transcending it or withholding in some way. That’s classic star stuff and it’s not really wanted anymore.

        She enjoyed pleasing people. The film pathologizes that.
        This is such a shame!

        Thank you for your illuminating thoughts! You make me a little more likely to see it although frankly with several unseen actual MM movies on the list it won’t be soon (I have to get on to bus stop and don’t bother to knock).

      • sheila says:

        // is it simply the extreme end of the recent biopic craze continuum? It didn’t seem like simple replication was something that would interest Dominik. //

        Yes, I know. I would say that’s actually one of the most interesting things about it – visually and thematically – mainly because we only know her through the photographs – and there are just so many of them – so … to make a photograph come to life … it’s interesting particularly when it comes to (arguably?) the most photographed woman in the world.

        // Sounds like it’s not able to give an account of why eg Wilder stuck with her or why she is so pleasurable to watch. //

        Wilder comes off terribly – which – he definitely was very frustrated by her. By her lateness, her inability to remember lines (I believe she was dyslexic – I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that) – but he also valued her and not just because of her body. He said “she instantly knew where the joke was.” The Marilyn on view in this movie has almost no humor (the times when she laughs are just delightful) … and it’s impossible to imagine this traumatized woman EVER “knowing where the joke was”. and because of this failure of imagination – Some Like it Hot will seem exploitative and dumb. She had a miscarriage during filming it. Or maybe after. Yes. But can’t we then see that the performance she gives in Some Like it Hot – under very rigorous conditions – is actually a triumph? for her personally? She “got it together” to give THAT performance in a very bad time for her personally. Can we at least GIVE her that? Or do we have to “cast” Billy Wilder as an evil cruel martinet being mean to poor little Marilyn. Ugh.

        // is that she is so thoroughly embodied – but to deal with that he takes a camera into her vagina? That’s where you have to go to get beyond the ‘image’ or ‘symbol’ of MM? //

        It really does seem to be the case although you could make a case that it’s his attempt to somehow express what her relationship with her reproductive organs were. I don’t know. There was a gynecological element to this that … feels very man-POV. Not in a porn-y way but like I said an inability to imagine that people just WALK AROUND with ovaries and it’s not a big deal. I don’t understand it, in other words. There’s a reason some people are calling this movie “pro-life”. A fetus literally says to her, “Please don’t kill me” pre-abortion. Uhm …. But again the criticisms are ALSO reducing Marilyn – she wanted a baby and she was traumatized by abortion. that doesn’t mean she’s pro-life, for God’s sake.

        Oh Jessie it’s all a muddle!

        and … it just points out that the real focus should be on her work!!

        People I really respect and admire love this movie – my friend Ryan – my friend Regina – even with some of the conflicts they have – so it has been interesting to hear their perspectives. And … I agree with them that … biopics are usually so BORING and un-curious and rote and methodical – that something like Blonde is definitely a game-changer and I hesitate to reject it outright. Like some people have rejected the Elvis movie as “whitewashing” etc. I don’t know. I’m “biased” towards both of those figures so … it’s hard to say. I am trying to be honest with myself here. I think the reason I appreciate the Elvis movie is that it re-centralizes his work – and that’s what’s missing in Blonde. It’s ALL the personal stuff – which, of course, is very dramatic! But the POV is all wrong.

        Some years ago, when Britney Spears was having her breakdown, holed up in her house, paparazzi parked outside – I thought about how it would make an interesting book – from her POV – almost hallucinatory and impressionistic – because what she was experiencing was completely out of the ordinary realm of normal life – who else experiences stuff like that? Famous people and besieged monarchs like Marie Antoinette. What must it have been like for her? I have no idea – but I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to imagine myself into her shoes. I truly think that’s what Joyce Carol Oates was doing – and Dominic – it’s just that … I disagree with the conclusions.

        // how impossibly embodied Marilyn is, how important the stuff of her body is to her being on screen. Frankly that was the moment where I first wrote the movie off which is not very fair of me. //

        So interesting!!

        Elia Kazan had some interesting things to say about MM – and he probably slept with her (he slept with everyone though) – but he perceived that she was embarrassed by the visibility her body gave her – she couldn’t hELP it. she was a pinup walking down the street, even if she wasn’t wearing pinup clothes. And … it’s like just BEING made her sexualized. A friend of mine developed really early – and had huge breasts in 6th grade – we were friends then. We didn’t talk about it then but as adults she has said what that was like. Men treated her differently all of a sudden – she was supposedly “mature” because her body was developed. It’s very perilous stuff. Marilyn turned that into an asset – she tried to control it – she became a star because of it. People don’t really become stars like that anymore. It’s just a different time. I am trying to think of someone current who is so “embodied”? I think a lot of current actresses are pretty cut off from their bodies. Again, though, it’s not a skill they’re really required to develop anymore, so it makes sense.

        // at being absolutely there and owned by the camera while still transcending it or withholding in some way. That’s classic star stuff and it’s not really wanted anymore. //

        absolutely. Cate Blanchett can work that way – but she can be pretty mannered. When her “mannered”-ness works – the way I think it did in Carol – she can be very alluring. But it’s still different. She’s more of a Bette Davis type actress than a Marilyn type actress. I think Salma Hayek suffered from some MM-type problems. She had to develop her own projects to get away from the often racist reactions to her – pigeon-holing her as a fiery Latina – a va-va-voom babe – as well as the reductive reactions to her – from Weinstein et al. Gross.

        And Don’t Bother to Knock … if Blonde does nothing else, I hope it will make people seek out that film! she is soooo good in it. I did write about it here once, and her very unnerving performance. Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft are great in it too.

  6. Lyrie says:

    Continuing our conversation about cultish things down here because the thread was becoming hard to follow.

    Re: jargon: I hear you – the specific example you give – yeah, those words are everywhere. And it frustrates me to no end, because I don’t see them necessarily as jargon – but I know what you mean. They are being overused, their meaning watered down sometimes to the point of silliness. Those words come from important advocacy or academic work that enable people to describe very specific experiences of oppression, that are very real, and it’s so fucking infuriating when they lose their meaning. 

    So those words take away nothing – they don’t obliterate – ideally, they add nuance and the fact that they describe a very specific concept should add to the thoughts available, not subtract. Gaslighting is a very specific thing, and you can’t just use it when you disagree with someone. It is so important to understand white supremacy and be able to see how it overlaps and intersects with many other shitty things. Etc. It’s when those words are overused and divorced from their specificity that it becomes a problem for me. But I am grateful to the people who coined those term, so that I can identify and name those specific things when I need to. Funnily enough, the way I understand it, toxic masculinity can take many different forms,  macho dicks being maybe one of the less annoying ones – I’ve had my share of really shitty experiences with feminist men, and I’ll take most guys who don’t master the vocabulary and the concepts  over those who do and take advantage of it any time. Which adds a layer to the whole thing: just because you have the words, and understand the concepts… it all depends on what you do with them. [which is why Rufus saying “Do not religiously persecute me, Bobby” is always soooo funny to me – hey, had to mention SPN at least once.]

    On the other end of the continuum, someone I was once close to grew up in a family whose culture it was to limit the vocabulary you could use – it wasn’t a religious thing and I won’t go into details but I think about them often. That person was smart and could manipulate really complex concepts, as long as it didn’t have to do with some of the family’s taboos – feelings and relationships being one of them. When it came to naming emotions or anything else, it was a whole family of toddlers – “it’s good,” “it’s bad,” “mean,” – not much else. And to see how it had erased their capacity to identify their own emotions and desires because they had no way to recognize more complex notions like, I don’t know, pride, broken trust, or anything else, was just so edifying. A perfect illustration of “if you obliterate certain words, you obliterate the CONCEPTS of the words.

    “The example of the fellow film critic you mentioned really speaks to me in another way too. I love the whole reflection on jargon you brought up because maybe it would be something I wouldn’t perceive until it’s a little too late – but what I’m hypersensitive to and that I usually call out way before most people is the invisible pressure to agree with the Boss. Which is why when that man speaks up and Teal yells at him and no one reacts, it’s really hard for me to watch – what the fuck is wrong with you, people? But of course, I have that very strong emotional reaction because again and again, I am that person in groups, even when it’s not in cults – the mechanism is the same – being ostracized because where there’s this implicit rule that you have to agree with X otherwise you’re “ruining it for everyone,” I’m not interested. There are groups with some healthy room for disagreement or conflict, and there are groups where even just asking questions is perceived as an attack. I used to believe I was the problem, but experience had taught me that actually, I just bring up that cognitive dissonance and it’s too painful for a lot of people. I’m often the canary in the mine – years later, I learn that actually, the group of friends that banded against me imploded, I’m asked to testify against an ex-boss that harassed me, etc. Either I called it or my behaviour was threatening to the cohesion somehow. 

    That said, I think I’ll pay more attention to jargon the next time I sense something similar – these two things definitely go hand in hand – if you speak differently, you also break the implicit rule of the group.

    //My friend Rachel said to me once – “You realize that nothing you just said is true?”It was a trigger. It totally snapped me out of my CERTAINTY that I knew what was happening.//

    That’s such a beautiful story. I’m glad you had a trusted friend to make you snap out of it. 

    //And so I often disagreed with the group – and I felt the pressure of people wanting to dominate me – to have me toe the party line – this has happened to me in all groups – women groups, political groups, even artistic groups … I just don’t like being told what to think. I’m really really stubborn.//

    Ha ha, you and me both, even though I think it comes from very different places. I am not thick-skinned like you are.

    //did you watch The Vow?//

    I had never heard of it but I recently subscribed to Crave so I’ve added it to my to-watch, thank you! 

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – lots to think about!

      // that enable people to describe very specific experiences of oppression, that are very real, //

      Yes! I would say the same thing about “trauma” “PTSD” – These are very real things – and yet over-use has made them seem not as serious as they are. It’s fine if such terms move out of their original arena – combat soldiers’ inability to recover from what they experienced – but … if EVERYONE has “trauma” then … maybe we don’t have to take the word seriously anymore. It becomes background noise.

      // But I am grateful to the people who coined those term, so that I can identify and name those specific things when I need to. //

      Gaslighting, in particular. It was very helpful – for about 2 seconds – when it came into vogue (even though the movie has been around for 70 years!)

      // I’ve had my share of really shitty experiences with feminist men, //

      100%. I’m actually at the point where I immediately assume that if a man puts “feminist” in his bio – or blasts it at the top of his Twitter page as one of his descriptors – probably has something to hide, or a guilty conscience. There have been so many examples – at least in my little corner of the world – of men who have positioned themselves as champions of women – who then were accused of truly horrible behavior. (Look up Devin Faraci.) It’s kind of like those preachers and politicians who condemn homosexuals – at this point, you know that they’re gay in the closet. I mean, it’s such a tell. They protest too much. and same with men who call themselves feminist.

      It’s particularly bad in the writing field. Men who speak FOR women, who think they’re sticking up FOR us, who write “this movie is offensive to women” and then act completely confused when I – a woman – tell them I don’t agree with them. “Huh, I don’t think the movie is offensive.”

      // When it came to naming emotions or anything else, it was a whole family of toddlers – “it’s good,” “it’s bad,” “mean,” – not much else. //

      Wow!! That is so sad.

      // erased their capacity to identify their own emotions and desires //

      So true. And if an emotion comes up that isn’t just “good” or “bad” but a mish-mash – then you experience it as threatening and wrong. This is the whole cognitie dissonance thing. Cognitive dissonance is a GOOD thing … at least in this particular concept … because it’s light cracking through the darkness. It’s critical thinking. You could SEE it in that man’s face in the Teal Swan doc – the one who went up against her. He still had his critical thinking intact, and he was able to speak out his cognitive dissonance.

      I see a lot of people literally silencing their cognitive dissonance now – because the atmosphere is so hostile to freedom of speech and/or thought. It’s truly scary. I have a friend who is a very vocal activist for a particular cause – and she takes issue sometimes with other activists and their tactics – and so she will speak her mind about it. She is then immediately written off as “bad” and “not REALLY one of us” – meanwhile though she is bombarded with emails from the same community saying “I feel exactly the same way, I’m just afraid to say it.”

      It’s really bad. It’s a cliche right now to say social media has made it worse – but it really has! This goes along with your other observation:

      // I am that person in groups, even when it’s not in cults – the mechanism is the same – being ostracized because where there’s this implicit rule that you have to agree with X otherwise you’re “ruining it for everyone,” //

      Ostracization is so terrifying – because you are literally dehumanized. It’s not just “oh okay we will ignore you” -it’s “oh okay we will email your boss and your landlord and we will never ever let you forget that you went against the agreed-upon grain. It’s a very real thing! and VERY cult-like.

      // I usually call out way before most people is the invisible pressure to agree with the Boss. //

      I SO love how you put this!!

      // I’m often the canary in the mine – years later, I learn that actually, the group of friends that banded against me imploded, I’m asked to testify against an ex-boss that harassed me, etc. Either I called it or my behaviour was threatening to the cohesion somehow. //

      amazing. You can REALLY see this dynamic in the Harvey Weinstein case – or even the Louis CK situation – where someone like Jen Kirkman – whom I love – spoke out the truth EARLY – when Louis Ck was at the top – and she was SHUNNED. And then of course the accusations build steam – and more and more people get on board … and yet … where’s the public apology to someone like Kirkman? How do we CORRECT these things when they’re playing out in real time? Or how about someone like Brad Pitt, threatening Harvey Weinstein after Gwyneth told him about the gross hotel room behavior. Brad Pitt – at the top – confronting Harvey – when Harvey was at the top – and NOBODY else had the balls to do that!! It’s so hard to go against the group – especially if the group is your own home, your own industry, your peers!!

  7. Lyrie says:

    //did you watch The Vow? the series on NXIVM or whatever the hell they called themselves? It’s REALLY good on this – as is India Oxenberg’s 6-ep series on her experiences.//

    Ah, the Holidays. A perfect time to watch documentary series about a cult. I had forgotten the title of The Vow, so I watched Seduced, on India Oxenberg’s experience because I found it first. It was so very well done, and so hard to watch.
    I’m starting The Vow now. I have so many thoughts! I was pissed, not just at what I was seeing, but like – why THE FUCK am I watching this?

    So, if you’re interested in telling me what you thought and discussing, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please. Don’t leave me alone with this, ha ha

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie – hi! Hey – honestly after watching India Oxenberg’s doc … I thought – well, that’s clearly better than The Vow. It wasn’t just “here’s what happened to me” – she and her mom called in experts to explain how brainwashing works – SO IMPORTANT – something The Vow didn’t address. It’s the thing that nobody gets – why do these intelligent people submit to a volleyball playing loser?

      Now some of the interview subjects in The Vow addressed their red flags – which they ignored – how he always kissed you on the lips, how his appearance – his slovenliness – was a turnoff – but they pushed aside their misgivings – it was normalized. So that’s good.

      But India clearly decided to educate herself on what had happened to her – and HOW it happened to her – and I really thought they did an excellent job, not just presenting what happened – but digging into why and how this can happen to people. (How much did we love her grandmother, who clocked it instantly as a weird group.)

      The problem with The Vow imo is it was made by big-wigs in the organization – and … I guess there’s still a sense that they didn’t want to look TOO deeply. That’s not entirely true – but it was very focused on themselves and their stories – which has its value (and that footage of Allison Mack literally selling her soul – the moment her brain breaks – I know you know the moment I mean. I can’t believe it was captured on tape) – I just felt that India’s doc had a purer intention: let’s tell my story but also let’s educate ourselves on this subject and pass on what we have learned.

      Not to “pass the buck” but to understand that cults – by design – turn victims into collaborators – they make sure everyone shares the shame, so it’s harder to leave.

      I really admire India.

      • Lyrie says:

        //something The Vow didn’t address. It’s the thing that nobody gets – why do these intelligent people submit to a volleyball playing loser?//

        Yes, definitely! It’s still interesting to watch The Vow to have more information, but there are huge gaps and it’s really left to us to imagine or try to understand how things happened. It is enlightening to have a broader perspective though – how things evolved over a longer period of time and how different people were treated differently – he raped some women to submit them, seduced others into relationships for business purposes… I haven’t finished season 1 yet, but it struck me right away how it’s interested in what happened, not how it happened. It’s a bit soulless. For instance it starts on Bonnie – a very smart and brave woman thanks to whom things started unraveling, but we don’t know what woke her up, really – what was the breaking point, the trigger. It frustrated me so much that we went to her husband so quickly instead of exploring her trajectory.

        // Now some of the interview subjects in The Vow addressed their red flags – which they ignored – how he always kissed you on the lips, how his appearance – his slovenliness – was a turnoff – but they pushed aside their misgivings – it was normalized. So that’s good.//

        Yeah, that’s very disturbing, the number of times people push away those feelings. I know I’ve done it too, many times – you don’t want to or can’t afford to be rude, etc. and what’s crazy is that I recognized the feeling immediately because I know it so well, yet I can’t remember a single isolated experience.

        //I really thought they did an excellent job, not just presenting what happened – but digging into why and how this can happen to people. //

        Yes. I mean The Vow does it too, but they put the emphasis on only some aspects of the mechanics – the sex, the finances, the fear of legal retribution, etc. without highlighting the psychological nuts and bolts, and impact as much, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s more clinical but something is missing, even as we hear Sarah Edmonson talk about it.

        However, I really appreciate how much time The Vow devotes to showing how the line is blurred between victims or perpetrators. It keeps going back and forth. Allison Mack’s story looks very different for instance – which makes sense, since India’s story doesn’t strive to present facts in an objective way at all, it’s her story. Understanding how even the women at the top were being used really changes everything. And yes, I know exactly the moment, I watched it this afternoon and I just couldn’t fucking believe it. And when you know what’s happening (because of course, it’s easy in retrospect, safe, on my couch), you can see so clearly how pleased that motherfucker is with himself. He’s got her and he knows it. What a despicable little man.

        //(How much did we love her grandmother, who clocked it instantly as a weird group.)//

        So. Fucking. Much. The whole family, really.

        I also really love how Seduced centers women. Vicente and others’ presence is incidental: it’s about one man, who used women, and who made women use women for him. And the woman who worked so hard to get her daughter out (while her ex husbands were like “meh, you’re blowing this up” – talk about gaslighting). I’m not saying men’s experiences and expertise don’t matter, but they don’t always deserve to be central, so it was awesome to see the FBI agent, the cult expert, the lawyer, the mother, the grandmother… all women, doing such a great job.

        A tangent: not long ago we talked about female representation in fiction and how fucking dumb it is that all of a sudden every single woman on screen has to be a sword wielding badass. And I couldn’t help but think how this documentary showed such interesting women, who probably wouldn’t have been cast to play their own roles. I was surprised that the beautiful polyglot princess with a face lift is a kind woman and an attentive grandmother. I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly – Charlotte Rampling in Melancholia, but more detached from reality, I guess? And the gorgeous ex soap opera actress – such a loving, smart, perceptive woman. The FBI agent? An absolute babe, with Bambi wide eyes and a sweet high pitched voice – an absolute badass. And I can’t wrap my head around what Nancy Salzman has done in enabling that absolute piece of shit who probably would have remained a low level crook without her – and he was fucking her own daughter, for fuck’s sake!

        I admire India too – she was in so deep, it’s amazing she was able to come back from that. She’s lucky to be so loved. And when I think of all the people who are in a similar situation Catherine Oxenberg was in but don’t have the same resources, it breaks my heart.

        I still have a few episodes in season 1 and the second season left to watch – I’m wondering how much more there is to learn? At some point I’m hoping to get a better understanding of how some dude can talk about “a rapable baby” and no one bats an eye – like what? I’ve said before, I think I can be pretty gullible, but come the fuck ON.

        • sheila says:

          Oh God, Lyrie – so … I’m so behind in responding! Late fall is the craziest time of year for me – so I am just now getting back to actually engaging with my site.

          There’s a new podcast on the block … including some truly fascinating new information – including interviews with all the higher-up inner circle just before the whole thing came crashing down. It was after the New York Times expose came out – and so Keith Raniere – de-camped to Mexico – decided that some good PR would help. Somehow, this journalist was given full access – and she interviewed all of them – Alison Mack, Claire Bronfman, Nancy Salzman – AND she traveled to mexico and interviewed Keith.

          This was right before Keith was arrested. I don’t know if you’re a podcast person, but I’ve been listening and it’s fascinating – much of this has never been heard before. (The interviews were almost instantly irrelevant at the time because the situation had so changed – but it’s a perfect subject for a podcast).

          Allison Mack sounds truly bonkers. Anyway – the podcast overall isn’t just about NXIVM, but it’s devoted a 6 part series to these interviews – podcast called Infamous:

          https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/nxivms-inner-circle-part-1/id1652941051?i=1000591555647

          • Lyrie says:

            No worries – and I kinda feel bad for constantly reviving this same thread, ha! But it’s been an interesting mini-obession, and of course I’ve dragged one of my friend in it… Very healthy!

            I don’t listen to podcasts much, especially now that I’m not commuting regularly, but I’ll definitely listen to that, thanks for the link!

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