Wonder Woman, Christina Hendricks and the Womanly Body

Maybe it's just my recent stint on

Pavarti K. Tyler's (nee Devi) 'blog

, but lately I've been mulling over some of my opinions on more risque subjects. (Well, more risque than normally occupy this particular space, anyway.) Today I found a couple of items that reminded me of one of these long-held opinions.

The first

 such item had to do with Christina Hendricks' long-held desire (longevity at least in Internet scale) to play Wonder Woman, and her


 director Nicolas Refn's claim that not only was he interested in bringing that particular character to the big screen, but that Hendricks would be his...er...woman.

The second

had to do with Refn's particular take on the character and her world, insofar as he's dreamed it up.

These public discussions about Hollywood casting rarely yield results, even when they're held after the movie deal has already been picked up, much less so when every single person involved in the conversation is speaking hypothetically. Now, too, studios are banking


 too many dollars on their superhero franchises to leave decisions about casting to people standing so far from the board room. Case in point:

Donald Glover for Spider-Man

. An amazing groundswell of support (though, too, controversy) responded to the suggestion he play Spidey for the reboot, and

that sure didn't work out

. So I'm not banking on a Hendricks/Refn Hellenic team-up any time soon.

What the possibility does raise is a couple of issues I'd like to address.

The first is the as-yet-unspoken gimmick of one of the few lauded curvy celebrities playing a superhero who is also - let's face it - a sex symbol. (


 feminist symbol; and if you don't believe me, do a web search for "William Moulton Marston" and "wonder+woman+bondage." [With safe-search activated {Of course.}.]) Christina Hendricks has somehow tread a brilliantly slender line in her career, being both of ample figure and widely regarded as sexy (and in some [these] circles, to "sexy," please append "as all hell"). And lest we forget, a damn fine actor, regardless. So we can say Ms. Hendricks would be an unconventional choice for the Woman, yet a potentially popular one. Sex sells in Hollywood.

Detractors would complain that she isn't hot enough, or that she's fat. Neither is the case, by a long shot. Would-be supporters might argue that of course she's sexy - just look at that bust. To whom I must respond, of course that doesn't hurt (not in a bad way, anyway) but if you think that's why she's beautiful, you're missing it by a-mile-and-a-half. And finally, some really, truly, well-intentioned fanboys might cry that she has the nerd pedigree for her


 connection, and that with a dye job and some sit-ups they will welcome her with loving arms. Add to that a few of us who might even feel a little earned self-righteousness from endorsing a full-figured super-heroine. I am no better than these hypothetical people, but all of these miss the point when it comes to Hendricks as a good choice for Wonder Woman's boots.

Christina Hendricks would be a brilliant Wonder Woman (particularly if paired with a director with real ingenuity, like Refn) because she understands all the complexity involved in and strength needed for navigating  life as a determined woman with a powerful - not to mention inescapable - sexual identity. Not only has she had to see past the limitations of others' assumptions, but she's succeeded in being associated with good work that she presumably has a personal appreciation for. In some ways, this is a scenario in which any woman finds herself, in some way and on a daily basis. I just happen to think Hendricks is well-qualified to portray that fight with unique grace and sensitivity.

Issue the second that this brings up for me is perhaps a less socially significant one; yet more important personally (I'm somewhat ashamed to admit). It also brings up a criteria that might put my dear Ms. Hendricks to the test, in a way.

Women who work wear muscle.

Look, I'm not a body-building fetishist, any more than girls who lust after brawny Hollywood hunks are. Taken to extremes, muscle mass is often freakish and Geiger-esque. The trouble is, ideas of contemporary beauty seem to limit us from finding any developed musculature on women appetizing. What is that? And why must it be used as an excuse for me to suffer through another fight scene such as this:

I mean: really.

The bad examples are too numerous to relate, and I can only think of a few positive ones; among them, 

Terminator 2


G.I. Jane



 is of course well known for how impressive a transformation Linda Hamilton made. In particular, she went from making an especially soft impression in 1984 to

a very lean and angular one

. I don't mean to detract from that at all - it was impressive - but I also have images of Ms. Hamilton spending quite a bit more time on aerobics than anyone in her character's situation likely would. To wit: still an emphasis on weight loss.

G.I. Jane

's Demi Moore did quite a shade better,

daring to wear biceps

and actually

demonstrating her strength on film


These examples remain in the minority, however. Most Hollywood images of powerful heroines still favor slinky dresses and long legs over developed shoulders. Sometimes this leaner physical type is handled better than others. Smart fight choreographers put such nimble minxes in fights in which they get to move fast and use lots of kicks and lower-body advantage (


 advantage, rather than the fetishistic "leg lock" depicted in the video above), and intelligent directors offer plot-related explanations for ballet-bodied ladies putting the smack down on crews of mercenaries.

But please to be noting, if you will, the distinction between the way the admittedly wonderful Summer Glau looks, and the way a woman (Bridget Riley) who spends her days actually working on fighting does:

(To her enormous credit, Glau does manage that scorpion kick much better than Riley.)

I know movies are not reality, and that men don't always rise to similar challenges, either (it would seem the Internet hasn't favored us with a capture of Kilmer's shirtless scene in

Batman Forever

). In recent years, however, Hollywood has held to a truer physical standard for their male superheroes, and I'd like to see a little courage in applying those standards to Wonder Woman, whenever she finally appears. Some may argue that women don't put on mass in the same way most men do, and this is the where the topic really does get a little personal for me.

They do. They so do. It may not always read the same on women, but hard work = muscles. I have had the pleasure of working with female circus performers off and on during my acting career, and in particular in the past two years as I've studied aerial silks I've gotten to see women physically transform over the course of time. I can say with absolute confidence that when a women practices pulling herself up a few yards of fabric once a week for a month or two, not only do her arms get more defined, they grow larger muscles. Girls have guns, gang. Respect.

That's it. In sum: Christina Hendricks, with some push-ups, as Wonder Woman: Yes. The larger issue is that I believe the predominant opinion of feminine beauty pretty much sucks. My two little opinions above don't even begin to cover it, of course. Plus they address my personal preferences just as much as Hollywood's bias, I suppose. That's all completely subjective, but I know female fighters have real arms, and nobody in this lifetime's going to convince me Christina Hendricks is less than beautiful or talented. But I pretty much expect the accusations of personal taste to start rolling in, so...hang on...lemme just get my latest issue of

Guns & Curves

in hand so I can read it (for the articles) at my leisure as the flame-war commences (I should be so lucky, to have such readership)...

Guest Post @ Devi Pavarti

I have a dear friend with a 'blog all her own who has been accepting guest submissions lately, and I'm honored to have had mine published there today. Please go send her traffic, whether you read my article or not. And Fair Warning: in my article there resides a terrible, shameless pun.

Somewhat in deference to her interests,

the piece I wrote

is a musing on the definition of erotica as it applies to literature. Pavarti has been a tremendous supporter of my fiction writing (tough love though it may be, as you'll see from her introduction) and I wanted to contribute something I was not only interested in, but something to which her readers might have some response. Perhaps Unfair Warning: Pavarti doesn't censor the eroticism from her 'blog so, though my article is itself harmless, don't go browsin' unless you're ready to be a little titillated...

Spring Flu = Movie Time

Postcard design by Megan Heflin.
This, ma' dudes, will be a long and largely pointless one.

I am a man of many talents, not the least of which is sudden, debilitating illness at irregular yet strangely predictable intervals. I never imagined I would have a show crash (sudden collapse of health and mental faculty following a production's close; not to be confused with Snow Crash) after filming Android Insurrection, yet that seems to be exactly what has happened to me over the past four days or so. How else can I explain a sudden flu in the middle of spring? It even began during a lull in the almost-constant rain we're having. It began, in fact, while I was enjoying an impromptu trip out Thursday night to see Thor.

I don't know, man. It's enjoyable? It's enjoyable. They did a nice job capturing some of that easy humor that made the first Iron Man so palatable, without skimping on serious stakes for the characters. Branagh was in familiar territory in many respects, including regally set father-son relationships. I also found it largely forgettable, though. Probably the most interesting aspect of it was how finely honed Loki's character seemed to be - never being outright evil, never being altogether good. I actually found myself wondering how much he himself was aware of his motivations, at times. Unexpected complexity for this kind of movie.

It's also, unsurprisingly, a movie that cluster-flocks your eyeballs with elaborate CGI. They seemed aware enough of this to make the Earth setting very plain and grounded, but that doesn't help me view Asgard as any less of a carnival of RoyG.Biv-brought pain, a little vacation in a rainbow-decked uncanny valley, a . . . really computer-generated picture-thing. And I really do wish someone would get a memo out to Marvel that this rubber-ized "armor" material they use doesn't read as magi-science metal. It reads as cheese, a la '90's The Flash television series. At one point in the movie, Thor drops one of their shields, and the pick-up of it hitting the ground uses an actual metal shield. It was so jarring to the continuity to me I laughed. Why did no one else? The prop had clearly been made of plastic up until that point! HA HA!

But to some extent, I have to admit, I was probably just disappointed in a similar way to how I was over Batman Begins. It's not that they did an especially bad job, it's just not the movie I would've liked to see. I know it would have made some problems for integrating Thor into the Avengers movie, but I think when life hands you a superhero who is a god, nested in ancient history, you have the potential to do something really different with the idiom. Make him more of a question mark. Dress him in rusty metal, or dare to give him religious overtones. Just a little grit and ambiguity is what makes me more interested in Captain America and X-Men: First Class than Thor. But I may be alone in this, and gods know it wasn't my $150 million, so what do I know?

The rest of my weekend enjoyed the remainder of our "three months free" Showtime (the WORST pay channel?), The Movie Channel and Netflix Instant. (Wife Megan can rejoice that at least a couple of the decidedly unromantic Korean films have been wiped from our queue.) I started out inauspiciously, which may or may not have had something to do with how sick I was compared to how sick I thought I was - by midday my fever of which I had previously been unaware had spiked to 102. I wrapped up Valkyrie On Demand (oh Bryan, what pretty, inconsequential movies you make) and started on Adventureland. I only got about fifteen minutes in to that before giving up. Still can't decide if that was because I found the movie improbably uninteresting (it is) or because my frustration trying to understand Jesse Eisenberg's meteoric movie career hit a bursting point (it did).

But THEN. Oh, THEN. Cruising through channels for something short-term, I found that Big Fan was just starting. This is a little movie I've had some curiosity about. I enjoy it - succeed or fail - when comedians (Patton Oswalt, in this case) tackle serious fare, and I thought the movie sounded like it had potential for interesting conflict when I heard about it a couple of years ago. But I pretty much hate spectator sports (subject for another post) and, frankly, at the time I was a little mixed on Patton. Since then I've had time to learn more about him, and he's grown on me. So I gave Big Fan a shot.

OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS. Oh my gosh. So good. So GOOD. Man. This movie was surprising in all the best ways, primarily because it is deftly handled with incredible honesty. It's ugly - New York and Jersey look like they really do most of the time, and the people are presented in all their fat and crinkles. It's beautiful - so believable, and the most despicable of characters are played with real heart. And what everyone said about Oswalt's performance is true. It's unequivocally wonderful. I think it's entered my canon of great NYC movies, in spite of being contemporary, largely in New Jersey and about football fans. Go to see (er, at home, from whichever delivery service).

After Big Fan, I shuffled back to bed with my peaking fever, and brought the laptop to consume one that I've been hanging on to for far too long. I balked at Let the Right One In; don't know why, but I just keep putting that one off. Instead, I finally hunkered down for Oldboy. Which, I've decided, was a mistake. 1) I waited too long and it got built up quite a bit in my mind 2) Big Fan left me high, not in the mood for hard-boiled noir 3) I've since learned the dubbing on Old Boy is atrocious, and I should've gotten the DVD and watched with subtitles. It's a good film. It's based on manga, and is a revenge story, so . . . BRING THE KIDS! (But don't, at all.) Ugh. That was my overall response. It's difficult to imagine a Spielberg/Smith remake.

But it was awfully well done! With both (dark) humor and good performances! Yay, noir, as well! And one thing, which I can't believe I never heard specifically about: corridor fight scene. Oh my God. Shot over three days with no cuts or CGI edits (barring some small CGI to deal with a stabbing and a few punch connections). All time - it's in my top ten fight scenes, indubitably. Warning: This is violent: No, really:

I didn't feel like leaving Korea just yet (in spite of having a bit of a gorge in my throat [possibly a live octopus]) and ventured thereafter into The Host. This is a movie I can recommend without hesitation. Unless you dislike monster and/or dysfunctional-family movies. It's billed as a horror movie, but I think that's a little reductive. What gives the movie wings (gills?) is its success in portraying a lovable yet serious dysfunction in family, society - really in humanity at large. The struggle against the monster becomes the struggle against our own nature, and its outcome is satisfyingly bleak. That being said, the movie is still very funny and ends on a hopeful note. Great sick viewing. Wish I could have seen it with a NYC audience when it was in theatres.

I tried to move on to Daybreakers which - I've been led to believe - is a largely underrated movie, but alas the weight of sleep was too much. The good Wife and I did finally consume I Love You, Phillip Morris over the course of Saturday into Sunday, which had been laying listless on our sidetable for almost a week. ILYPM is really REALLY good. I think. I was a little fever-hazy, feeling helpless for much of it, so I might have been especially emotionally pliable. But I think it was really REALLY good. A pretty impressive blend of humor, style, and genuine emotion. Great performances from two actors who are, admittedly, favorites of mine (though certainly far from do-no-wrong status). I wanted to stand up and clap for them at the end, but that may speak to my physical state as much as to their work.

There's also a lot of outright male homosexual sexuality. Men, having sex with each other, and enjoying that. So it may not be everyone's thing. I, for one, found its approach to that aspect refreshing. It pulled no punches, while also having a freeing sense of humor about it. Frankly, I expected to experience more of a challenge with it, given how much seeming controversy surrounded the movie's release here in the US. I wonder if that controversy was more constructed to try to market the film post-Brokeback, or if anti-homosexual contingents are more offended by enjoying homosexuality than by glorifying or being coy with it? Whatever. Movie's not about that - surprise, surprise.

Aptly enough, the weekend ended with both the Wife and I performing in our cinema-themed, student silks show: Coming Attractions. Each act was inspired by a different popular movie, Wifey's being an amazing (and impressively long) solo inspired by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I made it in by the skin of my constitution (and the grace of some OD'ing on Alka-Seltzer Cold'n'Flu) and managed to perform a little less than half of my Die Hard-inspired solo. I wasn't sure if I had recovered enough by Sunday evening to manage the opening move (an all-arm climb) much less anything else, but adrenaline is the best medicine, and in a way I had been studying movie magic my entire accidental three-day weekend. As I got close to my improvised stopping point, hanging from the ceiling by my knees and grappling with sweaty hands to tie a knot below me, I thought:

This is apt, too. John McClane would totally have the flu while having to do something both stupid and awesome. Yippee-ki-yay...


Last Saturday was the day of celebration for

Wife Megan

's 30th anniversary of the day of her birth and she, being the woman I married, wanted to go see some good, wholesome burlesque. You know burlesque, right? It's that quaint throw-back to a more innocent time, when men were men, women were women, and occasionally they all agreed to meet somewhere with dim lighting to reveal their knees to one another. One of the things I love about living in New York is being somewhere that such nostalgia for the frilly sins of the past exists. Any town that's a friend of anything remotely related to vaudeville and old-timey fun, is a friend of mine, as I always say (or will, henceforth). Furthermore, I specifically love burlesque. It's theatrical, it's joyous, and it usually incorporates lots of humor and props with its boobies. What's not to love?

So we went to

The Slipper Room


We stayed for many acts and several hours.

We left late, and they were still going strong.

Most of us will never be the same.

So from a theatrical perspective, it was a roaring success. I mean, if I can perform in something that really evidently changes people, I consider that a pretty big success. The specificity of that change is something that's even trickier than the change itself, given that all live performance is by its nature collaborative and interpretive. So personally, if you got something out of it, I got something out of it too. This reflects my attitudes on a lot of things. Like . . . dance. Or . . . board games. Or . . . other occupations of one's quest for joyous experiences. Let's not be judgmental about anyone's pursuit of happiness, even if they spell said pursuit "happyness." Hey: Rock on. It brings you joy and, on some level, that makes me happy.

Now there were some things I witnessed Saturday last that did not, per se, make me happy. The responses I had were more along the lines of being made to feel surprised, or confused, or scared. Very, very scared. But others really enjoyed some of these things, and no one got hurt or maligned beyond repair (though of course some audience mockery is part of the idiom), and so we can all look back on it and laugh. Sure, some of us may have gone home and gone directly into the shower, do not pass "GO!", do not bother removing one's clothing. But here we all are, scarless, and with a generally broader view of our fellow man, woman, and all others.

A broader view in a smaller world, I should say. I knew one of the performers -- had performed with her before, in fact. Her stage name is

Miss Saturn

, and she is a dynamite hula-hoop artist. She is also, it turns out, somewhat uninhibited in her display of God's gifts. When I performed alongside her, it was at

a benefit


Friend Melissa

's company,

Kinesis Project

. She hooped it up, I clowned around, and afterward she suggested we work together again some time, but I never followed up. Now I'm left to wonder if following up would have led me to The Slipper Room. It would not have been an entirely unwelcome opportunity, assuming I would have been able to stick to my personal preferences for the content of my act. During Saturday's experience I also had the unexpected mystery of feeling I recognized another performer: one "

Harvest Moon

." As it turns out, I don't. She's not who I mistook her for, but she has nevertheless reminded me that secret identities are as common in this city as free newspapers.

Some may view my appetite for nostalgia with disdain, but what can I say? I like sentimental sweetness in my indulgences, and could have used a bit more at The Slipper Room. After each break, the acts grew progressively more risque and shocking, and I grew less and less interested. Of course, if I were to run a contemporary burlesque show in New York City, I've no doubt I'd have to make similar allowances. After all, what we saw was probably closer in overall effect to us as the burlesques of old were during their time. These shows were shocking, titillating not just in sensual ways, but in visceral ones. The atmosphere should be one of reckless abandon and in this sense there was nothing inapt about my experience Saturday night. It was just that I had walked into a circa-1930s Berlin burlesque, when I had been hoping for a circa-1889s French one, I suppose. C'est la vie! I regret nothing!

Looking back, it occurs to me that there's an awfully fine line between anticipation and dread, and that line is going to be set at different places for different folks. A friend of mine recently sent me some writing research that discusses the role of feedback loops in sexual experiences. The gist of it was that "healthy" sexuality involves a feedback loop of increasing focus on arousal, and "unhealthy" (or perhaps, unhelpful) sexuality involves a neurotic, self-evaluative loop. Both increase the focus, but one allows you to engage, and the other rather prevents it. If we accept that sexual feelings are erotic in the broader sense, this is a very interesting way of looking at what we as performers inspire in our audiences. Will we fill them with eager anticipation, loathsome dread, or something of a different ratio altogether? In my opinion, neither is bad, just a different effect. And whatever effect, it begs the question: What, if anything, will we make the payoff?

Tropic of Gemini

I unintentionally read the anti-


a little while ago: Henry Miller's

Tropic of Cancer

[link N


SFW]. It is putting it rather on the glass-half-full side of things to say that the book served as a cleansing of my cynical palette before I embark on one of the more profound studies of innocence. When I finished

Tropic of Cancer

, I put it down with a victorious sigh, relieved that I would never have to read it again. Friend Patrick is flummoxed by this behavior in me, my determination to finish any book I've started, no matter how awful the experience. (I did give up on

this book

last Spring, though, because it is just freaking shite.) I can hardly explain it myself, except to say that it is perhaps a deeply ingrained habit. Whatever the cause, I generally read only one book at a time, and when I start a book, I finish it, or it finishes me.

Tropic of Cancer

very nearly finished me.

It's a little troubling to have so loathed a book that has come to be widely regarded a classic. It's supposed to be a work of considerable genius, and has been praised unequivocally by folks like Orwell, Mailer and Vonnegut -- all writers I greatly enjoy and admire. This isn't the first time I've not enjoyed a classic. I've often not enjoyed Dickens and Joyce. And by often, I mean just about every time I've curled up to give them another read. I do believe, however, that this is the first time in my adult life that I've taken such an active distaste for an accredited author's work. That is to say, it is unique in my experience to feel revulsion for something I've read, and perhaps this speaks more to Miller's genius as might any actual critical response I could make. It's not prudery, per se -- I love vicarious sex and violence, whether that's a good or bad thing. Love Anais Nin, so far loathe Miller. So what is it?

It is, I believe, the cynicism. The sheer, unrelenting, unapologetic cynicism. To hear Miller tell of it, I would not have made it out of 1930s Paris alive; there are suicides in this book, and they are all-too understandable to me. It seemed as though every character maintained his or her existence merely to progress to the next selfish experience, and after not too long I was utterly bogged down in the sense of hopeless, purposeless puppetry. I read

Of Human Bondage

not too long ago, and it was almost as if Miller had taken Carey's latter (also frustrating) selflessness and turned it on its ear so hard it went into coma. Miller's narrator (or voice, depending on the ratio of memoir to narrative at a given moment) is given to short sentences of profound and usually brutal imagery and metaphor that definitely would have appealed to me when I was sixteen. Now, they strike me as naive and self-centered and, as far as I was able to tell, the narrator undergoes no lasting change in the course of the story. Was there even joy in this story, really? Miller is famous for philosophically sucking the marrow from life, but this seemed more to me like continually jumping off a building for the three seconds of the sensation of flying.

What this is really about then, for me, is a struggle to process my experience in reading the book. How did, or will, the book change me? You could make the case that it won't . . . but that I feel it already has, and what remains is to understand that effect. It hasn't sapped my hope, at least. If anything, it makes me rail against its perspective, which seems so short-sighted and inconsequential that I want to grab the narrator by the neck and just shake him until he snaps out of it (or something else snaps). Why do none of these people believe in anything? What drives them to write, or do anything lasting, if it is all about survival and gratification? Maybe these are the questions Miller wanted us to ask, or maybe I'm just to narrow in my perspective on the era. If I had to say what effect the book has had on me, I'd guess at this point that it has strengthened my resolve to help and inspire others through my work. And I have to confess that I hope Henry Miller would've hated that.

Lest this read as some offended rant against a slice of literature history, I will say that at times I felt the raw power of Henry Miller's control of the language, and his willingness to savor words without making them self-important or inaccessible. Some of his ideas rang out, too, despite my prejudice against the perspective of his narrator. I wrote earlier in the month about the

supposed virtue of beauty

in art, and a strong argument could be made for there being a unique and important beauty in Miller's work. For me, however, I'm thrilled to go work on

a love story

very soon (and possibly even more thrilled to finally be on to reading it on the subway).


love story, for some people, and I'm going to do my damnedest to make it a guilty pleasure to begin, and full of consequence and beauty at the end. And maybe that's what Miller meant.

But I really have no idea.