Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Phantom of the Opera

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Phantom of the Opera (2004). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friends @VictorianMasc and Dr Douglas Small, so we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

The Raven (2012)

Titanic (1997)

Fievel Goes West (1991)

Little Women (1994)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Calamity Jane (1953)

Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing.

I should also note that we’re going to pick on Gerard Butler for being Glasgwegian, but we do so with extreme love: we all did our PhDs in Glasgow (where we met!), half of Douglas’s family is from there, etc. etc.

*as we put this on Amazon Prime*

Douglas: How does this have 4.5 stars?

VictorianMasc: Is it out of 10???

Gird your loins, this is going to be the campest thing we’ve watched since … Calamity Jane, which was literally fifteen minutes ago (even though these posts came out months apart).

We open on Paris, 1919

and are immediately introduced to this rachet-ass dusty old fancy fuck pulling his dusty old ass up to the opera house for an auction.

We all started saying ‘fuckin’ Raoul’, because that’s Raoul, the secondary lead, and he sucks.

We’re also introduced to Madame Giry at the auction, and considering she’s supposed to be at least 20 years older than off-brand Prince Phillip, she’s looking pretty damn good. She and Raoul nod knowingly at each other.

They auction a bunch of posters and props and shit, and THEN they get to this:

Douglas: HOLY HELL, KILL IT WITH FIRE! I was not braced for that, man.

Raoul–who, I would like to point out, NEVER SEES THIS MONKEY in the actual narrative of the film and presumably has no reason to be nostalgic over this, over all the items they’re auctioning–pays 30 francs for it.

I looked it up, and as best as I can tell, 30 francs  is $6 in 1919 money, or about $89 in 2020 money. This seems like a lot for that shitty monkey!

VictorianMasculinity: Listen, that monkey is going to grant you some sort of terrible wish that’ll go awry. Walk away, Raoul.

But he doesn’t. Instead, Raoul gets all nostalgic and does the two things he does best:

1.) Nothing

2.) Crying

END OF LIST

VictorianMasc: Christ, was he a victim of the Spanish flu? What is going on with this dude? He’s barely in his 60s!

Then they auction off the in-no-way-ominous Lot 666, which is a chandelier that once fell on the opera audience, killing many and burning the opera house down, no need to worry too much about it, we’ve wired it with electric light so nothing could ever go wrong again!

Ohhhhh, is this one of those auctions? The type that you only find on the dark web?

Anyway, they fire up the snazzy new, hopefully less murderous, chandelier and all of a sudden we’re BLASTED to 46 years ago by the power of color and electric guitar.

Douglas: You know, electric guitar: famously the most nostalgic of instruments.

VictorianMasc: *as Raoul* AUGH, my memories!

This film’s tagline should be ‘Poor in quality, but rich in bombast!’

Anyway, it’s 1870 now and we’ve gone into the fully-blown maelstrom of Raoul and Madame Giry’s collective memory, even though most of the film is set when neither of them are present in the scene.

Two new fuckwits have taken over the opera house, despite no experience of theatrical management, and also despite the opera being haunted by a pissed-off, horny Glaswegian. Y’all did NOT do your due diligence.

Young Raoul has become the opera’s new patron, and we don’t know why he’s driving his carriage standing up. Is that a thing? Between the very loud music, the poor theatrical business practices, and people standing up inappropriately in moving vehicles, it’s like we never stopped watching Calamity Jane.

Look, let’s get our grievances out of the way now: Patrick Wilson, who plays Raoul, is a very, very, very good musical theatre singer and it’s a shame he’s stuck in this thankless role. Raoul is the living equivalent of ‘flaccid’, and he’s been given my mom’s long bob from 1989, and we all hate him.

The star of the opera is La Carlotta, who is sold to us as a hellish, untalented diva, but the older I get, the more I realize she’s the unsung (heh) hero of the film.

VictorianMasculinity, who is a classical reception scholar, wouldn’t shut up about how much she wanted to see this production of Hannibal, and I’m inclined to agree, purely because of the very brave decision they made to paint all of the extras’ nipples gold:

We’re introduced to Christine Daae, a ballerina at the opera:

She recognizes Raoul because they were childhood sweethearts before her father died, and let me tell you, girl has some Daddy Issues™. But we’ll get to that later.

She tells her friend Meg Giry (Madame Giry’s daughter) that Raoul used to call her ‘Little Lotte’, even though that is not a traditional nickname for ‘Christine’. However, Raoul probably wouldn’t recognize her now.

Douglas: Oh, god, is Raoul one of those Werther fans? Because nothing is more nakedly arousing than The Sorrows of Young Werther. This fucking guy.

We also learn that Madame Giry is the ballet madame of the opera house, and she’s also the only one willing to commit to the film and do a fucking French accent.

VictorianMasculinity: Miranda Richardson is 100% playing chicken with her accent – is she gonna stop, or are the other actors going to start?

Carlotta gets pissy that the new owners are only interested in perving on underage ballerinas (fair), and bursts into tears that she’s not getting enough attention, threatening to leave the show.

Carlotta: The Embodiment of PMS

Also WHY DOESN’T SHE HAVE AN UNDERSTUDY???

The new owners grovel and beg her to sing the big aria in the show. Carlotta is briefly placated, until, in the middle of her song, she is completely cold-cocked by a falling set that was loosened by a mysterious presence.

All the ballerinas and stage hands lose their shit and start muttering about THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. This is supported by an ominous letter that flutters gently to the ground at Madame Giry’s feet:

Douglas: I’m calling bullshit. Look at the wax seal on that thing! That letter would have fallen like a fucking brick.

The letter is addressed to the new owners and it says, ‘Listen, fuckos, you may technically own this place, but let’s not forget who rules the roost: the Opera Ghost. Leave Box 5 empty for me every night, and also give me my salary or I’ll fuck you up real good’.

The theatre managers scoff at this (I would be absolutely shitting myself, but maybe that’s just me–a woman in full possession of her faculties), and Carlotta gets into a massive strop and leaves in a cloud of glitter and poodles:

VictorianMasculinity: I’m 100% siding with Carlotta on this one. Her costumes aren’t finished, she’s injured from unsecured sets. Where is the union rep?

But never fear, the show will go on! Madame Giry says, ‘Christine Daae can sing Carlotta’s part’. They give her a try, and she’s great! She goes from timid ballerina to full-fledged, Empress Sissi-lookin’ diva via a lens flare that looks like she’s on the Starship Enterprise:

Douglas: How can the Phantom hear this through eight floors?

VictorianMasculinity: *deadpans* Genetic mutation.

I personally wanted to see Christine pull off that goofy-ass Hannibal number we saw Minnie Driver open with, but I guess we only get this thoroughly un-Carthaginian Broadway song, so.

After her big ole showstopper, Christine avoids the after-party to go pray in the theatre’s (??) chapel and light a candle  for her departed father. She is the WORST theatre kid I’ve ever seen.

Douglas: Is there a water feature behind that stained glass? Why does it look like they’re under the fucking sea?

Anyway, Christine starts hearing voices briefly, but before we can investigate this haunting or psychosis or whatever, she’s found by Meg Giry. Meg goes, ‘That was great, who taught you to sing like that?’

Christine says that right before her father died, he said she’d be protected by an Angel of Music. Because Christine doesn’t understand metaphor, she thinks there is a LITERAL Angel of the Bass Clef, or some such, who is following her around and teaching her how to stay on pitch.

I suppose this is complicated by the fact that she started hearing the Angel’s voice when she first came to the opera house at age seven (SEVEN! He’s been stalking and perving on her since she was SEVEN! And Carlotta said it’s escalated over the last three years, meaning when Christine was THIRTEEN). What a wonderful opportunity to explore power dynamics and traumatic childhoods and ‘great art but at what cost’–a shame they don’t touch on any of that in this film.

Anyway, Christine thinks it’s Daddy Ghost giving her voice lessons, and she and Meg sing a song about it:

 

Then Christine is presented to her (??) dressing room (I mean, Carlotta is coming back, but okay), where The Great Gatsby is happening:

Madame Giry gives Christine a red rose with a black ribbon attached–it’s from the Phantom and “he is very pleased with you”.

Oh my god, they’re gonna have such spooky sex.

Outside the door, Raoul is also trying to tap that ass. He shows up with flowers, and the new theatre owners ask if they can “present her to you.”

Douglas: *uneasily* Present her to you sexually? Is that the subtext?

VictorianMasculinity: That’s not really subtext. More like ‘pretty right on the money’ text. Aren’t you suppose to have a PhD?

He bursts into her dressing room and they have a sweethearts’ reunion, in which they talk about goblins and shit.

Christine INSTANTLY goes off about her Angel of Music theory and Raoul–a man with no concept of red flags–is like, ‘Oh, haha, you beautiful creep, I’m going to order the carriage and take you to dinner! We’re dating now!’

As soon as he’s gone, two very strange things happen: 1.) Christine changes into her best restaurant corset (Raoul is coming back, Christine, why are you in underwear?) and 2.) A mysterious hand locks Christine in her room under the pimp-tastic eye of Madame Giry:

We get some ominous shots of the opera house at night, where all the statues look sinister and the candles start sputtering out on their own.

VictorianMasculinity: Meanwhile, over in the giant boob warehouse

Douglas: I’m sorry, is the logic of this film asking us to believe that the Phantom has power over fire? Like he’s one of the Captain Planet kids?

The Phantom’s here, and he’s PISSED. Thus begins Douglas’s long night of repeating everything Gerard Butler says, but in a comedy Glaswegian accent.

He pulls Christine through her dressing room mirror (was he perving on Carlotta before, or …?) and we’re off with the THEME SONG OF THE FILM, written by a composer who lived to shred:

Victorian Masculinity: Bring on the weird Cocteau rip-off!

Except … this isn’t an enchanted opera house in the way Cocteau’s castle was supposed to be enchanted in the reality of La Belle et La Bete. So, I guess the Phantom just paid dozens of extras overtime to stick their arms through the wall. Hold your candelabrum higher, Kevin, your arm isn’t aligned!

I’m not going to lie to you: 2004 Gerard Butler is fine, and it’s not entirely because I first saw this film when I was going through puberty.

VictorianMasculinity: Good lord, no wonder Christine’s ‘sexually available eye shadow’ becomes more intense as the song goes on!

Inexplicably, there’s a horse! Which the Phantom puts Christine on for all of 10 feet, until they get to a boat.

Douglas: Does this journey end with a zip line straight into his bed?

We end up in his lair, which … look: he makes some bold decorating choices, let’s just go with that.

VictorianMasculinity: No one’s trimmed those candle wicks! This film is a feast of shit for all the senses.

At this point we had to take a break just to get away from the electric guitar.

Douglas: *sitting wearily back on the couch* Right, let’s get back to the mediocrity.

Then they immediately go into another song which is very innuendo-filled and very gropey:

The metaphor is so transparent it must be a metaphor for something else. It must be.

VictorianMasculinity: This is just a shit Dirty Dancing.

VictorianMasculinity: Is she just going to stare gormlessly at him this whole song? She’s not said anything to the Phantom. Politeness should dictate she says something and some point.

But alas, she does not. I’ll give this to her, no one does ‘blank stare’ quite like Emmy Rossum.

Then the Phantom shows Christine his weird little shrine to her, which includes some sort of unholy, uncanny valley life-sized Christine Wedding Barbie, and Christine does the first reasonable thing in the film: faint dead away at the sheer creepiness of it.

The Phantom carries her off to a weird bed:

Douglas: Auch, let me take you tae ma peacock! Also, ma bed’s shaped like a peacock!

And pulls some ugly-ass curtains down over her:

Douglas: Me girl’s done fainted. Looks like another night alone with me Irn Bru and me John Cocteau arms.

Meanwhile, in the ballerina dormitories, a stage hand named Joseph Buquet regales the girls with tales of the HIDEOUS Phantom and his evil magical lasso, using the opportunity to sexually harass some opera tarts.

Madame Giry shows up, gives him a well-deserved crack across the face, and says, ‘Really? Really? You want to piss off the dude who you know is dangerous and listens in on everything that happens in this opera house? KEEP YOUR HAND AT THE LEVEL OF YOUR EYES, or ya gonna get noosed.’

The next morning, Christine wakes up to the demonically possessed monkey and is like, ‘Da fuq happened?’

The Phantom is all, ‘Morning, how do you take your eggs? I can have one of the Cocteau arms whip you something up. Kevin makes a nice milkshake.’

Christine responds by ripping his mask off his face, because she’s a rude AF house guest:

The Phantom gets pissy and returns her to the opera house, where everyone is collectively losing their shit that the new star has disappeared. They’re more annoyed, however, that the Phantom has been hard at his letter-writing campaign, sending these dickish notes to everyone and their mother:

The Phantom is like, ‘Y’all, DID I FUCKING STUTTER? Here’s what’s going to go down: 1.) You’re going to stop casting Carlotta in anything, she sucks, 2.) Bitch better have my money, 3.) I’m going to keep ‘protecting’ Christine (with my penis) and Raoul can  go fuck himself, 4.) This is my theatre and if you don’t follow my instructions I’m going to cram these notes so far inside your bodies that you’ll be coughing up wax for a week’.

The new owners, sick of being pushed around, are like, ‘Sorry, guy, we don’t speak dick *fingers in ears* lalala, can’t hear you!

‘1.) Carlotta’s going to be our star again, 2.) We’re not paying you shitfuck, 3.) Raoul is going to ‘protect’ Christine (with his penis), and 4.) this is our theatre, and you can piss off straight to hell! Bottom of the morning to you!’

They convince Carlotta to come back to the opera via a lot of ego-stroking and puppies:

Then we’re ricocheted into some Dangerous Liaisons-style opera set in fucking Candyland:

The extras, meanwhile, are having the lamest orgy I’ve ever seen, by just gently pulsating in the corner:

We zoom in on Carlotta’s voice-perfume, or whatever the fuck it is, and know that nothing good is about to happen as the Phantom replaces it:

Douglas: I’m sorry, does the Phantom just have identical bottles ready at hand?

VictorianMasculinity: Identical cut-glass bottles with giant gold atomizsers are part of his Phantom Utility Belt.

The Phantom then interrupts the song by bursting through a door up near the chandelier, and saying, ‘Are y’all deaf, or just stupid??? NONE OF MY INSTRUCTIONS HAVE BEEN FOLLOWED, YOU’RE GOING TO GET IT NOW. *evil laugh*

Douglas: *as the Phantom* Now back en ma wee hole.

Carlotta goes to get some of her voice perfume and resumes the song, except the Phantom has replaced it with walrus-juice or whatever, because she starts croaking and bellowing like a beached sea creature.

Everyone freaks, and sends Christine off to get ready to take Carlotta’s part, while the ballerinas cavort around with sheep to entertain the audience.

While all this is going on, Joseph Buquet starts poking his nose where it doesn’t belong:

The Phantom goes, ‘Sir, I have seen your death, and it is good!’ and catches up with him on the catwalk:

Buquet drops on the stage in the middle of the ovine ballet like the worst pinata in the world,

while the Phantom cape-swooshes and says, ‘That’ll teach you to throw shade at the 3/8ths of my face that isn’t incredibly handsome, you sandbag-dropping mother fucker’.

Everyone freaks out, and the new owners of the theatre try to calm everybody down by going, ‘IT’S AN ACCIDENT OR A JOKE OR SOMETHING.’

Yeah. That Phantom. What a fucking prankster.

Raoul and Christine flee up to the roof of the theatre, where they assume they’ll be alone.

VictorianMasculinity: GO OUTSIDE, go anywhere but inside the theatre!

Christine tells Raoul that the Phantom is basically an abusive boyfriend who stalks her and will kill as many men as it takes to get his way. Raoul says, ‘There is no Phantom of the Opera!’

Douglas: No Phantom? Who shouts at the audience, sends notes, and strangles perverts? Come on, Raoul! Either you’re an idiot or you’re gaslighting a 16 year old.

Me and VictorianMasc: He’s an idiot.

Then they sing the big love song of the film, because nothing is sexier to a woman than being told that all her concerns about her safety are just in her head:

VictorianMasculinity: Meanwhile, on the next building over at the Moulin Rouge, they’re having a much more pleasant rooftop song.

Little do they know the Phantom is listening to them from behind a big horsey statue:

Douglas: *as Glaswegian Phantom* I dinnae ken why, but something in ma DNA es telling me tae put a wee traffic cone on this horse statue.

When Christine and Raoul run off to have the world’s most vanilla sex (exactly 6 minutes, lights off, Raoul will leave his socks on), the Phantom vows revenge. Something along the lines of, ‘I murdered a stagehand for you, Christine. Why do you not reciprocate my love? Wait. I know what will do it: more revenging.’

Douglas: *as Glaswegian Phantom* This es a shite night. Ma chips and cheese are cold. Ma hen’s run off with a tosser.

Then the Phantom goes radio silent for the next three months, which shouldn’t alarm people in the theatre at all. But no, these people decide to resume the status quo (which the Phantom hated), assume that the Phantom has left the theatre for good after doing a little light murder, and that now is the perfect time for a giant masquerade ball:

Everyone dresses like an asshole and is born to hand jive, I guess.

There’s a song to go with it:

Christine and Raoul show up fooling no one with their SECRET ENGAGEMENT, which they will definitely keep a super duper secret with Christine’s giant ugly-ass engagement ring hidden in plain sight in her fucking cleavage:

Hurray for that ‘secret’ ring, because I swear to fucking God in French musical heaven, I haven’t seen anyone make a poor life choice in at least forty jesus-christing seconds.

Me: Christine doesn’t even have a mask!

VictorianMasculinity: Her whole face is a mask!

Anyway, a few minutes into the first dance, the Phantom shows up wearing a bright red outfit, all like, ‘LOOK WHO’S HERE, FUCKOS’, and I gotta be honest, he is in a room full of theatre types and manages to be the most Extra every time, which is no mean feat:

He says he’s been busy working on his new opera, a Don Juan knock-off. Christine is going to play the lead, Carlotta needs to fuck off, and Piangi (the lead tenor) is in sore need of some body shaming:

Douglas: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where’s all this heat for Piangi coming from? Gerry, we are from the city that invented the deep-fried Mars bar. You’re looking at the Ghost of Christmas Future, my friend!

He rips off Christine’s engagement ring necklace and disappears in a cloud of smoke down a trap door:

Raoul follows him.

Douglas: Down the opera anus we go!

We land in a pointless room full of a bunch of mirrors, and Raoul flails around like a baby until Madame Giry comes and rescues him.

VictorianMasculinity: Madame Giry is the living embodiment of the phrase ‘I leave you alone for five minutes’.

Madame Giry then explains the history of the Phantom: when she was a young ballerina at the opera, they took them on a school outing to a freak show. Look, it was a simpler time.

She saw one particular attraction called ‘The Devil’s Child’, which is really just this spooky-ass burlap-bag-ass kid:

He’s minding his own business, playing with a little stuffed monkey toy with cymbals–

Douglas: I’m sorry, but where did this caged child get miniature cymbals from? Fuck’s sake.

–and his … owner?? … comes in and starts whuppin’ on his ass for no damn reason. When the crowd leaves, Baby Phantom finds some rope and strangles the owner. Baby Madame Giry sees it, helps Baby Phantom escape, and she hides him in the basement of the opera, where he thrived like a goddamned mint plant.

Anyway, despite having no education or training in anything, the Phantom is a polymath genius. It leaves one to wonder why he’s hanging out in the basement of a theatre instead of, say, a university or a laboratory or a museum, BUT WHAT DO I KNOW. This is Edward Cullen going to high school for 100 years all over again!

Anyway, back in the present, Christine wakes up early and decides to go on a road trip, telling no one where she is. Good work, Christine. We find Raoul asleep in a chair, guarding her dormitory door.

Question 1: He’s the Vicomte of Fancypants. Why doesn’t he just move his girlfriend into a DIFFERENT PAD? She extremely does not have to work there! Get married and move to Monaco, you dumb kids. You have all the financial resources!

Question 2: Why would the Phantom not just kill Raoul, who is asleep and vulnerable at this moment. He’s already committed one public murder, I doubt another one will harm his conscience.

Question 3: Who are all the Phantom’s suppliers? Like, he has a lot of accouterments to accompany his Big Theatre Kid shenanigans, and I appreciate that he gets a salary from the opera house but, like, who is delivering this stuff?

This film has plot holes you could drive a truck through.

But I digress. We’re missing the main point, which is that Christine is about to get tits out for Daddy’s grave:

Okay, there are obviously a lot more prominent boobs in this film (lest we forget the gold-nippled extras), but that is still significant boobage for winter in a graveyard. There’s a whole fucking song about Christine Daae’s Daddy Issues™, if you want to see someone walk very slowly and boobtastically through a cemetery.

She collapses at the foot of her father’s crypt

and then the Phantom starts singing (because of COURSE he stalked her there) about how he’s definitely the spirit of her daddy, yep, definitely daddy–DADDY LOVES YOU, CHRISTINE!

VictorianMasculinity: What, 3 years ago he pimped out her dad’s grave just waiting for an opportunity to impress her? I guess I respect that.

Christine almost goes and boinks her Daddy-Phantom on a headstone, but Lord Cockblock shows up at the last second to throw some cold water on the situation.

GODDAMN IT, RAOUL, I WANT TO SEE SOMEONE GET BOINKED ON A HEADSTONE, LIKE MARY SHELLEY DID

He and the Phantom get into a sword fight, and the Phantom swooshes his cape around so much, I’m convinced he’s just trying to waft his pheromones.

Raoul wins the fight, but rather than killing the KNOWN MURDERER Phantom, he just pisses him off, leaves him in the graveyard, and allows him to continue whatever revenge plot he’s hashing.

But, hey Raoul has a plan:

1.) Immediately after the graveyard scene, he must have been like, ‘Right, back to work, Christine’.

2.) They’re going to stage the Phantom’s show–the super sexy one he’s written for Raoul’s fiancee, that he’s had months to plan and plot around.

3.) They’re going to bring in the fucking FRENCH MILITARY and when the Phantom’s on stage they can, like, shoot him. Even though Raoul could have killed him 5 minutes ago and didn’t.

VictorianMasculinity: So, your plan to capture or kill the guy famous for having secret trap doors is to bar the entire audience inside with him and the high likelihood of military cross-fire? And you’re telling everyone this plan inside the theatre, where you know he listens? My god, he and Christine are going to have the most vacant children known to man.

The night of the opera arrives. Honestly, I would ask for a refund if I walked in to see this. I don’t need my arias with a side of musket, thanks.

Piangi comes on and is like, ‘I’m the lead in this opera! My diet is going well! Everything’s coming up Piangi!’ only to go back stage and be murdered by the Phantom, for no other reason than the Phantom’s caught a bad case of Showgirls.

Douglas: Oh no! Little buddy! How was your diet going? We’ll never know!

The Phantom takes Piangi’s place, and I gotta tell you, the Phantom in this scene can get it. Christine’s own blouse keeps trying to take itself off whenever he sings.

Dang, son, if you just turned up the smolder and turned down the sociopathy, Christine would not care at all about the messed up half of your face! You wouldn’t be losing women to men with BOBS!

VictorianMasculinity: My god, Christine is easy to seduce. It’s like hypnotising chickens.

Meanwhile, Raoul, who has brought out the entire French military specifically for the purpose of shooting this tight-trousered asshole, instead just allows the Phantom to feel up his girlfriend (who is digging it) in front of all French society, while Raoul sits there and cries.

Oh, for God’s sake, Christine, go with the one who’ll give you the weirdest sex life–you clearly want to let your inner nasty off the leash.

The Phantom then starts singing Christine and Raoul’s love song, which is some weapons-grade pettiness right here. Christine takes the opportunity to rip his mask off and reveal what Douglas’s shrieked was a BACON FACE:

Douglas *incoherently shrieking from prosthetic makeup Hell* His face looks like bacon! Bacon! Face!

The Phantom truly has a trap door for all occasions, because he sends the chandelier plummeting into the audience, no doubt killing a bunch of people, and plunges Christine and himself into the basement.

Raoul chases them, remembering Madame Giry’s words: keep your hand at the level of your eye:

Better advice would be to keep your eyes on the fucking floor, because Raoul falls through yet another trap door. The structural integrity of this building is like Swiss cheese!

VictorianMasculinity: Ha! Your hand didn’t do you any fucking good, now did it?

The Phantom drags Christine down to his lair, puts her in that wedding dress he (?) made, and gives her a giant scolding and whines about how ugly he is. She says that she would probably have dated him regardless of his face, if he didn’t have such a piss poor attitude:

Douglas: God, his face isn’t that bad! He looks like he’s got conjunctivitis, or has had a bad reaction to shellfish. There was no need to put him in the Elephant Man mask and beat him with sticks!

Christine, girl, some advice: 1.) This guy will freak you nasty, 2.) This guy will further your singing career, 3.) This guy will let you work through some of your not insignificant Daddy Issues™, and 4.) If Raoul’s choice of engagement ring is anything to go by, the Phantom has a much better sartorial dress sense. I say: stay here in this weird cavern and do him like a crossword!

Then Raoul shows up and forgets for one hot second about keeping his hand at the level of his eye:

The Phantom gives Christine an ultimatum: you can go free, but I’m going to kill your boyfriend. Or he can go free, but you have to stay with me forever.

Christine goes, ‘Counter offer, how about we just make out for a long time?’

The power of her snogs make the Phantom’s heart grow three sizes, and he lets Christine and Raoul go free. She gives him her ugly engagement ring to ‘remember’ her by.

VictorianMasculinity: That’s reeks of, ‘Oh, gee, sorry, honey, I must have lost it! Can we buy another one … that I get to pick out?

Christine and Raoul gondola off to a real basic sex life, while the Phantom smashes some mirrors and plans a career change.

The opera house has burned to the ground, several people are dead, more are out of work, but I’m glad that the Phantom’s finally had a breakthrough in therapy.

In the future, Old Raoul visits Christine’s grave.

Douglas: Well, at least I have the monkey I never actually saw in the past which therefore has no significance for me.

But the Phantom is still alive and has also left an offering:

We got into a debate over if that ring would be stolen instantly, or if it’s too ugly for even thieves to want.

THE END

Final thoughts?

VictorianMasculinity: Raoul is so limp he’s basically a jellyfish poured into a waistcoat, and don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

Douglas *snickering quietly* Bacon face.

*

That’s all from us for a while–suggestions for films are always welcome!

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Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Calamity Jane

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Calamity Jane (1953). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friends @VictorianMasc and Dr Douglas Small, so we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

The Raven (2012)

Titanic (1997)

Fievel Goes West (1991)

Little Women (1994)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing (I’m also putting a disclaimer here that this film is extremely racist, which is perhaps not surprising given that it’s a run-of-the-mill thoughtless 1950s western.)

Oh no

OH YES

The film opens with the Deadwood stagecoach carrying, among other things, ALL CALAMITY, ALL THE TIME, and fuck’s sake, is she relentlessly sunny.

She also spends a lot of time smacking people, which is one of the very many bits of lazy 1950s cinema shorthand used to tell us that she’s a tomboy in need of some feminine refinery!

The opening song just repeats the lyrics ‘Whip crack away’, so was hoping it would be a mildly kinky western–hooo boooy I had no idea how right that prediction was.

Jane–or ‘Calam’, as she’s insipidly called throughout the whole film–has no sense of self-preservation.

SIT DOWN, YOU SHIT-LARK, YOU’RE ON A MOVING STAGECOACH

Of course we couldn’t even make it through the opening number without some racist epithets, and everyone in my house was stunned silent.

They soon pull up in Deadwood, in front of a saloon called The Golden Garter.

All the townsfolk (mostly men) are excited because Calam is arriving with both dry-goods and a WOMAN. A sexy actress lady named Frances Fryer.

They show their joy in a not-at-all Freudian way:

Calam bursts into the Golden Garter and starts sliding around things like an asshole

And going absolutely buck wild with her legs akimbo

She introduces us to the proprietor (the dude in blue behind the counter) by saying, ‘Introducing Henry Miller/ Just as busy as a fizzy sasperiller’, and we all had to go, ‘Okay, okay, okay, wait a fucking minute’ so we could discuss:

1.) The absurd queer reading we’re getting from this film

2.) If we were being too generous to say that her introduction of Henry Miller was metatextual

3.) If we’re being classist about her regional accent, or if we just have to accept now that trying to apply moral scrutiny to this film is like trying to apply a Band-Aid to a sucking chest wound.

Fuck, you guys, we are three minutes in. I don’t know what we want to stop more, our own academic tendencies or Doris Day, who is LOUD.

Then we’re put out of our misery by the introduction of Wild Bill Hickok, played by Howard Keel, the manliest-man to ever swang a dick in 1950s musical cinema. You can tell Doris Day is delighted by this development, because her leg-spreading becomes endemic.

Douglas: My god, she’s presenting like a baboon!

Calam and Bill have a sort of rough-housing, boyish, friendly antipathy toward each other. You know the kind. The kind you only learn about during lonely cattle drives or in a Patricia Highsmith novel. But it’s the 1950s, so they unfortunately won’t have the dusty, buckskin covered, ambiguously queer, zeitgeist-collapsing sex that I am so wishing for.

Calam has a drink with the boys and starts exaggerating about the adventures of her trip–namely by saying how many hundreds of Sioux she killed along the way (which is played, naturally, for laughs).

Douglas: Oh Good. I see now that this film – made in the 1950s – is about to feature both American colonialism and race issues, AND alternative sexual and gender identities. I can see no way in which these topics – handled from the cultural perspective of the 1950s – could possibly go terribly, nay horrifically, awry.

Calam, who is a notorious tall-tale-teller, isn’t fully believed by her fellow racists, which INFURIATES her.

Douglas: *as Calam* Any man here who says I didn’t commit genocide is a goddamned liar. I killed them and their children! Wiped their tainted seed from the earth!

VictorianMasculinity: Why the fuck is Howard Keel’s shirt wearing itself as a bib?

Everyone gets distracted when they pass out a bunch of cigarette packs with new sexy lady cards inside.

Random Dude: N’yaww, I got Queen Victoria!

I feel your pain, brother. No one wants to wank to her.

One guy gets a rare collectable: Adelaid Adams! YeeeeHAW!

Douglas: Is she wearing Bjork’s swan dress?

Calam says, ‘What’s a Adelaid?’ while Wild Bill tries to control an erection. ‘She’s a hope, a dream, a vision [….] She’s charmin’, lovely figure, everything a woman oughta be.’

VictorianMasculinity: Meanwhile, Wild Bill tries to explain the male gaze.

Calam, who is raging with jealousy because deep down she luuuuuurvs Bill, says that Adelaid ain’t all that, and any real gentleman wouldn’t look at saucy pictures.

Wild Bill asks if Calamity mean ‘gentlemen’ like her bland-as-dirt crush, Lieutenant Gilmartin.

We had to pause again here to debate whether, like the Henry Miller thing, ‘Gilmartin’ is a meta reference to ‘Gil Martin’, the fake name that the Devil uses in James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Lord knows it probably is because someone must have sold their soul to something in the course of this film. After FAR too long, we decided to dodge the issue by calling him ‘Prairie Ken’.

Calam does not take kindly to having conventional gender dynamics shoved in her face, NOR SHOULD SHE!

Meanwhile, outside in the stagecoach, we are introduced to the ‘actress’ hired by the Golden Garter. Except ‘Frances Fryer’ turns out to be ‘Francis Fryer’. Ohhhh, I sense some gender-bending hijinx in store for us!

Things go even further south for poor Francis when a member of the Sioux nation decides to mind his own business next to the stagecoach.

Me: Do you reckon Henry Miller keeps the Native Americans on retainer to frighten people into the saloon? God, it’s the worst combination of racism and capitalism.

Douglas: Yeah, that’s the worst one.

Francis is narrowly rescued from those dangerous, dangerous natives who might sit next to him to death, only to find further horrors in store inside:

He’s like, ‘Ohoho, what a hilarious typo, I’m Francis Fryer, here’s my ID!’

Henry Miller starts to lose his damn fool mind, realising that he’s got a saloon full of angry erections who are expecting a striptease, and this chuckle-fuck just won’t do at all.

Then he thinks on it: What are your ankles like? Shapely? Quickly, come with me, I have an idea! It’s like Tootsie, but fucking pointless!

While Henry Miller and Francis Fryer are up to some undoubtedly sexist bullshit, some actual plot starts happening over in the saloon. Some men stumble in worse for wear:

They were attacked by a war party and some [racial epithets] have taken the hunky-if-flavorless Lieutenant, Prairie Ken!

Douglas: Oh, Christ, no. Go back to whatever sexist bullshit Henry Miller’s concocting. Go back, go back!

Calam throws some shade about the men being shit at protecting their own:

VictorianMasculinity: *As the cowardly Brown Hat* Hey, I never claimed to be a soldier. I’m good at drinking and the male gaze, end of list.

She runs off on her one-woman rescue mission and somehow instantly manages to find the war party, who are unarmed and don’t hear her, Doris Day, Loudest Woman On Earth.

‘Gentleman, we are quorate’.

The soundtrack is EXACTLY what you would expect from this scene.

Meanwhile, Prairie Ken has marked his tree…

… and I once again lament the fact that this film has all the tools to be truly kinky, and never even once goes there. LOOK AT THAT TREE PLACEMENT.

Then all hell breaks loose as Calam starts shooting everything up, like an asshole.

All carnage naturally happens off-screen–we obviously don’t care that the Sioux are being murdered despite not having killed anyone themselves, but it’s rude to show it, ya know??–and Calam and Prairie Ken gallop back to safety, where she takes the opportunity to feel him up a little in the saddle.

Meanwhile, ‘Frances’ Fryer is ready to go on stage, and Henry Miller for some reason had a poster printed up that makes her look like Tina Turner, despite (obviously) never having seen her before. This guy really deserves to lose his business.

After a bout of nerves (come on, guy, the theatre world is rife with men playing women, just now there’s the extra menace of a bad review and a homophobic attack)…

… Francis comes on stage recycling the costume from Showboat (another racist Howard Keel 1950s musical where a singer bombs) …

… and sings a song with a very uncomfortable honey metaphor:

Victorian Masculinity: Where we laugh at the male gaze only when a man has to go through it. This is the film equivalent of putting ‘lol’ after saying ‘Woman, make me a sandwich’.

After a really painful setup in which that wig was destined to come off, the men in the bar get FURIOUS at the duplicity.

YOU TURNED ME IN TO A HO-MO-SEXUAL! I want a refund!

Henry Miller has to come out and apologize:

‘Gentlemen, I know you all have erections and you’re all terrified of them right now, but it’s going to be okay. We’ve all been young. We’ve all experimented.’

Calam shoots a bullet into Henry Miller’s ceiling for the 50th time so far in the film (I’m amazed the building is still standing, given her damage to its structural integrity).

VictorianMasculinity: Vagina says ‘shut up’

She vows to go to ‘Chicagie’ and pick up a real woman! And not just any real woman: Adelaid Adams!

Frances Fryer whispers that he knows Adelaid Adams…

VictorianMasculnity: And she’s a real bitch!

…and that she wouldn’t be caught dead in a town like this.

VictorianMasculnity: Wow, I was close.

Calamity’s big mouth catches up with her soon after the show, while she, Henry, and Wild Bill sit around and think about how they’re actually going to get Adelaid to agree to come.

VictorianMasculinity: Why is Howard Keel still here? He’s not involved in this situation at all!

Douglas: I gotta be honest, I’m getting the feeling that he was just fucking stoned on set. Howard Keel’s done absolutely nothing in this film so far. Look how he’s sitting, all gormless and louche. He can’t walk home! Plus, the bar has snacks.

There’s some dumb banter between Calam and Bill, where Bill recounts all the massive ‘heroics’ Calamity’s bragged about, saying that nothing can stop her–she could ride off to Chicagie and bring Adelaid back!

Douglas: *as Calamity* Hey now, are you just egging me on so I fuck up in an amusing way?

And then they sing a stupid, stupid song about how much they want to have hate-sex. On the plus side at least he flings her around a lot.

VictorianMasculinity: Fling her down a well and be done with it, Howard.

Also, can you imagine a universe where, when people had fights, they actually stood angrily back-to-back? I can’t decide if that’s a universe better or worse than this one.

Wild Bill baits her one final time: ‘The night that Adelaid Adams steps on that stage, I’ll come to the opening dressed as a Sioux squaw lugging a papoose.’

Douglas: Ohhhhh hohoho, that was uncomfortably specific. Why do I feel like we’ve just loaded Chekov’s papoose?

Before Calam leaves Deadwood for Chicagie, Wild Bill tells her she ought to look at the women there, how they dress and act, and get herself some ribbons and whatnot so she can start looking like a girl. She tells him to kiss her ass, but the damage is already done!

You can tell conventional femininity has gotten its dirty hooks into her, because she’s wearing a slightly cleaner hat than normal. This is a slippery fucking patriarchal slope, if’n I ever seed one!

Then the film did something none of us expected: it was momentarily clever. After one particular shot, we all yelled out something incoherent but amounting to, ‘IT’S A GENDER-SWAPPED VERSION OF THAT PAINTING!’

Me: *wistfully* I wonder what H.H. Holmes is doing right now….

VictorianMasculinity: Literally probably the same thing as Calamity: hunting for a beautiful woman.

Jesus, friend, dark.

Calamity takes Bill’s advice, but doesn’t like what she sees:

Douglas: ‘A bustle?’ queries Calamity, not in possession of the male gaze.

Calam gets flirted with by a local whooore:

Everywhere Calamity goes, she’s presumed to be a man, because I guess lesbians didn’t exist in the 1950s.

Then, just when you thought we might be safe from racism for a merciful five fucking minutes, Calam discovers a wig shop (which she assumes sells scalps from a ‘massa-cree’) and pulls her gun on a life-size statue of a Native American. She is laughed at in the streets.

Douglas: Hey, look, a yokel with an ambiguous gender identity! Let’s scorn them!

And then:

The actress they got to play Adelaid is beautiful and has a really lovely voice:

VictorianMasculinity: Christing hell, every part of this woman is embossed.

Douglas: Whaa… what are they doing behind that curtain?

Then we get an info dump as the plot shows up. We’re introduced to Adelaid’s mealy-mouthed maid, Katie–

–who wants nothing more than to take to the stage herself. ‘If I could just be up on the stage for one minute, seeing all those people, looking up at me, listening, admiring…’

VictorianMasculinity: So, when Katie becomes a fascist leader, is this her origin story moment?

Adelaid is unsupportive of this dream: ‘I’ve heard you [sing]. Very nice for choirs and weddings, but I doubt your voice would ever carry beyond the footlights’.

Adelaid hates playing in a podunk town like Chicago and is off on a world tour. She leaves Katie her fringiest, most embossed costumes, collects her paycheck, and leaves the film. We are all the sorrier for it.

As soon as Adelaid’s out the door, Katie wastes no time in All About Eve-ing her….

…which is precisely when Calamity bursts into her dressing room.

Katie: Who are you?

Douglas: *as Calamity* I am the spirit of lesbianism, come to claim you as one of our own!

Calamity takes one look at ‘Adelaid’ and lets out an admiring, ‘Gosh almighty, you’re the purdiest thang I ever seen.’

Calamity tries to ‘see how she’s holding up that dress’ and then attempts to help her out of it, leading me to believe that this is the single gayest film I’ve ever had the privilege to watch.

Look, guys, she’s new to lesbianism. Her moves aren’t very slick. But, Calam, your clumsy understanding of sapphic frission is no reason to grope someone!

This leads to a tussle with Katie, who slaps Calam, thinking she’s a man. Admittedly, Calam wears fringe on her shoulders instead of her breasts, so that’s an easy mistake to make.

This sends Calam into the pits of despair. ‘Come to think of it, I suppose I look a mite strange to a lady like you.’

The three of us: *silently willing this to become a trans narrative, knowing it’ll be sadly scuppered*

Calam, thinking Katie is Adelaid, offers her the job in Deadwood:

VictorianMasculinity: Gee, you suppose this film is telling us there are only two models of womanhood? Femme and butch? In the 1950s? GET OUT.

Calamity: I promised ’em you’d come!

Douglas: You wouldn’t want to disappoint a gaggle of violent, disaffected yokels, would you?

Katie barely hesitates about committing identity theft, except to express her concern about going into ‘Indian’ territory.

Calamity’s like, ‘Don’t worry about that, I did a good bit o’ genocide a few weeks back, so you’ll be safe’.

And just like that, they head to Deadwood and we’ve finally found the plot 40 minutes in.

We’re treated to the fucking incessant background music of that opening number Calam sings, which is guaranteed to be stuck in your head for weeks thereafter. We’re also treated to more racism, as their carriage is attacked on the way:

Sioux Leader: It is Doris Day, the Great Killer. Flee from her, my brothers.

She murders a whole bunch of them–

and is seconds away from stopping to feast on their corpses. It is SO JARRING in the rest of this twinkly Technicolor shitshow of a film.

When they arrive in Deadwood, both Wild Bill and Prairie Ken help ‘Adelaid’ out of the carriage, and you can see exactly where this is going.

Henry Miller, who not only has seen Adelaid’s picture a hundred times but also now has a new little actor buddy (who knows the real Adelaid), warmly welcomes Katie.

One hates to get all Ayn Rand about this, but Henry Miller’s business deserves to go under. He’s the most easily deceived man in the theatrical world.

Everyone’s like, ‘Hey, Calam, what was Chicago like?’ and Calam goes, ‘I’ll tell you in song form!’

Douglas: Ok, great, but what does Deadwood, in fact, got?

VictorianMasculinity: This is like reading a student essay that doesn’t answer the question.

Me: My big question is: why are her legs perpetually apart? Is it a sex thing, a tomboy thing, or are we all being really insensitive and she just has rickets?

In her dressing room, Katie gives herself a stern talking to about identity theft, now that the nerves have set in.

VictorianMasculinity: Why are you talking to yourself? Do you have the One Ring?

Just as the show’s about to start, as Henry Miller begins to introduce ‘Adelaid Adams’, we hear a baby cry in the saloon. Everyone looks around, only to discover CHEKOV’S PAPOOSE:

VictorianMasculinity: Oh my god! Wait, whose baby is that?

Douglas: Oh, fuck no, I’m calling bullshit. Calamity Jane had forgotten all about that bet. It wasn’t even a bet! It was a flippant comment that they didn’t shake on, or anything! He wanted to wear that dress.

VictorianMasculinity: Do you reckon they had to persuade Howard Keel to do this scene, or was it, like, something he demanded and had written into his contract?

Me: ‘And I have to be in an indigenous frock for at least 3 minutes. And put lots of yellow in it, I look darling in yellow.’

Anyway, they finish introducing ‘Adelaid’ and Katie comes on and BOMBS. Her voice is squeaky, she’s terrified, she’s dropping things left, right, and centre. Who would have thought someone with absolutely no training couldn’t just immediately pick up the job on her first go?

After about four bars, Katie cracks and says, ‘I’M NOT ADELAID ADAMS’, like a toddler who’s fed up and decided to have a nap right here.

The crowd turns on both her and Calam.

Bill: Let’s get this straight: you’re not Adelaid Adams?

Katie: No, ma’am.

And there, my gentle readers, is the only genuinely funny joke in the film.

Katie: I fooled [Calamity] like I tried to fool you.

Douglas: She’s just a lot dumber than you are, so I thought this would be easy.

They manage to talk Katie into having more confidence, which I guess is the equivalent of having years of singing and dancing experience, because now she kills it, admittedly in a strange way. It’s the hat-kickin-est song you ever did see!

VictorianMasculinity: Fuck your hats! Fuck them all!

Douglas: I would lose my shit if she started singing that Fievel Goes West song.

VictorianMasculinity: I gotta be honest, this actress does nothing for me. I feel like I’m watching Mrs Dursley trying to be sexy.

I’m glad they gathered up all the prospectors in Deadwood for a single 2-minute song. This was time well spent.

At least we get some almost hot butch-femme action.

SO CLOSE

SO SO CLOSE

Unfortunately it’s interrupted by some heterosexual foreplay, appropriative transvestism aside:

The next day Bill runs into to Calam and Katie–who’s packed her things and loaded them into Calam’s carriage.

Katie: ‘I’m moving into Calamity’s cabin with her’.

Katie says the hotel doesn’t have many women in it–

Douglas: *as Katie* And I have needs.

–so it’s more appropriate for her to move in with Calamity so they can ‘chaperone each other’.

Y’ALL, I’VE SEEN SAILOR MOON

I KNOW WHAT LESBIAN SUBTEXT IS

Katie invites Bill to come visit them once she’s settled in.

Douglas: *as Bill* Well, I think I’ve just been invited to some kind of weird threesome. I might be wrong, but the illusion is pleasant.

VictorianMasculinity: I’ve finally figured Howard Keel out. He looks like if Tom Hardy and Armie Hammer had a baby. A huge, terrifying baby.

Wild Bill has a dumb love song. I have nothing to say about it, except they really don’t give Howard Keel much to do in this film at all. What a waste.

Then we arrive Calam’s ‘house’.

Katie is like, ‘Madam. That is your toilet. Where is your house?’

The inside is even worse.

Douglas: That bear’s not dead. Just drunk.

Victorian Masculinity: Oh, god, we’ve finally found the female gaze in this film and it’s directed at the fucking house.

Then the film veers real close to a touching queer love story with a song called, I shit you not, ‘A Woman’s Touch’, in which this delightful lesbian couple transform their fixer-upper cabin into a love nest:

Calam even saws apart the bunk beds, presumably to make one double bed. It feels especially sordid because Doris Day does some proto-twerking as she saws.

They turn the front door into a revolting Hallmark card, and repurpose some of Adelaid’s old costumes so they can put the tit tassels on the lamp:

I like that they both end up in coordinated lesbian plaid over the course of this song.

One day, Calam goes out to visit a sick friend, leaving Katie alone in the house. I just cannot believe they put this blonde bitch in yellow. She must have had an enemy in the costuming department.

This is, of course, the exact moment that both Wild Bill and Prairie Ken decide to drop by and get into a colossal pissing match over which one can court Katie.

In a textbook ‘ovaries before bro-varies’ violation, Katie gets all soft in the eye over Prairie Ken, who she knows her absent roommate-cum-lover has the hots for. Goddamn it Katie, you’re letting the sisterhood down.

Katie covers up the wood box with a shawl and is like, ‘OH GOLLY GEE WE’RE OUT OF WOOD, COULD A BIG STRONG MAN GO FIND ME SOME WOOD I REALLY NEED WOOD’

VictorianMasculinity: *deadpans* It’s a metaphor.

Katie manipulates Wild Bill into volunteering so she can get some alone time with Prairie Ken. It’s genuinely like watching two Barbies try to have sex by mashing their lack of genitals together until something happens.

VictorianMasculinity: I don’t think either of them have passed the Turing Test.

Wild Bill comes back to find the wood box full and realises where he stands in Katie’s affections.

Douglas: *gasp* J’accuse!

The film slowly turns into a Harold Pinter drama about wood and awkward pauses.

The men then get into another dick-swinging competition over asking Katie to an upcoming ball. Katie says ‘The four of us are going to go all together’.

Douglas: A menage, if you will.

The men draw straws over who gets to take whom to the dance. Bill loses and start bad-mouthing Calamity, saying, ‘Well, she’s not beautiful‘, having not seen her since her butch-to-femme makeover. Katie sees Calam returning home, about to cross the creek, and says, ‘Oh nooooooooo? Just wait!’

Then this walks in

(costume designer: I’ve already put this blonde bitch in yellow. How can I humiliate her next?)

and Katie screams, ‘CALAMITY’, almost like she’s understood the meaning of her name. She stares down the camera as Calam attempts to clean up with exactly four inches of spare rag.

VictorianMasculinity: *deadpans* That towel’s going to do wonders.

They lie and say both the men are there to ask Calamity to the ball, and Bill ‘won’. Prairie Ken tugs at his collar, delighted with his narrow escape.

Douglas: Like trying to summon life into a wax dummy.

The night of the ball arrives and they all pile in and sing an (actually pretty?) song:

Bill: ‘… to the beautiful Indian country …’

Douglas: … that we stole from them???

Passing Sioux: The white man mocks us with his song.

They arrive at the ball and Calam takes off her giant coat to reveal that she’s been Stepford Wife-d and Wild Bill DIGS IT:

Douglas: *in Calamity’s gruff voice* I’m a teapot! Short and stout!

While Calam is busy getting hit on by every man at the ball (BECAUSE CONFORMING TO CONVENTIONAL FEMININITY SHOULD ALWAYS BE REWARDED, says the film, hitting us about the head with this message emblazoned on a sledgehammer forged in the fires of the male gaze), Katie and Prairie Ken sneak out the back.

Prairie Ken proposes marriage by saying, ‘Calamity can be a bridesmaid’.

Douglas: *genuinely gasps* You are such a prick!

Katie accepts.

Douglas: *genuinely gasps* Double prick! Prick squared!

Calam and Bill see them practically going at it in the bushes

and Calam is like, ‘My brief flirtation with heterosexuality is over!’

When Katie and Prairie Ken come back inside, Calam grabs a gun…

VictorianMasculinity: Oh, god, she’s going to go full Wilkes Booth on her!

…and shoots Katie’s punch glass out of her hand, miraculously not injuring anyone.

Douglas: Can you imagine how tense the bunk bed situation is going to be in the cabin tonight?

Calam gets furiously undressed in front of Bill (in case you’re wondering, this does not lead to angry grief-sex), packs up Katie’s shit, and kicks her out.

The next night at the theatre, Calam shows up and warns Katie to get out of town tomorrow or she’ll kill her.

VictorianMasculinity: Holy hell, she is going to go full Wilkes Booth!

Katie, who’s been real indoctrinated into this whole toxic pissing contest culture, borrows someone’s gun and makes to shoot Calam’s drink out of her hand. Wild Bill quietly helps her out.

Humiliated, Calam runs out. Wild Bill chases her and then yells at her for ‘thinking like a woman’–the exact thing he’d been trying to get her to do over the first hour of the film. Fuck’s sake.

Bill: You’re a fake, Calam! You dress, ride, act, talk like a man but you think like a female.

VictorianMasculinity: Yes. Because no man has ever killed another in the heat of passion.

He berates her some more and actually says the lines, ‘Go on, admit you’re female. You’ll feel better.’

VictorianMasculinity: I’ve figured it out. Without facial hair, Howard Keel has the profile of a Simpsons character.

Bill berates her some more until they fall in love and squash their dumb faces together, blah blah, who gives a shit.

Douglas: I call this one The Neck Breaker.

Well, isn’t that just fucking convenient for everyone, especially for the patriarchy.

Calam then finds a happy middle ground in her personal dress sense:

Douglas: Androgyny! I’ve become a dapper femme!

Because we only have ten minutes of the film left and haven’t heard Doris Day’s remarkably booming voice in a while, we’re able to shoe-horn in one last terminally dull number. Her horse senses it and starts tossing its head.

‘Calm the fuck down horse, I’m ’bout to sing atcha’.

VictorianMasculinity: This woman has never met a piece of vegetation she doesn’t want to touch. I’m sure there’s some subtext there, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is.

Because Calam has possibly amnesia and/or issues with basic problem solving, she can’t figure out why no one in town will talk to her, nor why Henry Miller is taking down Katie’s sign at The Golden Garter.

Calamity: How come they’re taking down the signs?

VictorianMasculinity: Give her a minute. She’ll get there.

Douglas: No she won’t.

When she learns that Katie’s on a stagecoach headed back to Chicago, she gasps, ‘Chicagie???’

WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND VOWELS, CALAM? We’ve put up with a lot of shit from you over the last hour and a half, but this is the giddy limit.

Calam decides to run after her and ‘bring that stage back here’.

VictorianMasculinity: No matter how many lives it costs!

Douglas: That is … not the horse she rode in on. Did she just steal a random horse? Or does Deadwood have some sort of horse sharing system that this universe has not fully explained to us?

VictorianMasculinity: It’s like the Boris bikes!

She catches up with the stagecoach, although they fail to specify how many indigenous people she murders on her way. Probably a lot. Doesn’t matter, what matters is that the lesbians decide to break up but remain friends, while the driver may or may not pleasure himself whilst hanging upside down outside the window, like some sort of prairie Nosferatu:

Then there’s a wedding and some more of Doris Day using her chest voice.

I would love it if the film veered off course in the last 30 seconds and made this a lesbian wedding, but no joy.

VictorianMasculinity: Shit, I just realized: I don’t think Wild Bill has many years left. Is it too dark to say that Calam’s going to be widowed pretty soon?

Douglas: Is it too dark to say that Lt. Prairie Ken probably participated in the Wounded Knee Massacre?

Jesus, how did we end up here? Doris Day taps into a real darkness in all of us.

They all pile into the stagecoach and go back to (presumably??) Calam and Katie’s cabin to bang.

Douglas: I don’t know how he manages it, but Howard Keel always has an awkward wedding night.

Me: Final thoughts?

VictorianMasculinity: He was Decidedly Tame Bill Hickok. *long pause* Fuck this film.

FIN

We’ll be back on Valentine’s Day with Phantom of the Opera (2004)–see you then!

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Bad Book Covers – Moby Dick

It’s time for another installment of Bad Book Covers. Today we’ll look at Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851).

Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The MoonstoneDracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and HydePamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green GablesVanity FairTurn of the ScrewShe,  The Jungle BookTess of the d’UrbervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities.

Usual disclaimers:

1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.

2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.

3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.

Plot Recap (SPOILERS)

Full disclosure, I’ve never read Moby Dick because I don’t have the mental bandwidth for 700 pages about blubber and how the sea is a cruel mistress. All I know about this book is that it’s super long, and far too boring to also be this gay (Melville was probably gay–as has been amply studied over the years in queer theory circles–and more than a little in love with his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who did not reciprocate his affections).

I do, however, have a colleague who loves this book more than life itself so I figured I could at least check out some of the artwork. Here’s what I do know about the plot: there’s a captain named Ahab who (I think?) had his leg bitten off by a whale he was trying to murder once, and instead of calling that a fair draw, Ahab is determined to find the whale again and spear-stab it until one or both of them dies.

This is exactly what happens, the end.

ON TO THE COVERS.

 What accurately summarizes a book exclusively about dudes swinging their dicks against nature, written by a closeted author? This weirdly condescending sperm-fish, clearly.

This book is now called Gently Bumping People Who Try To Stab Me.

‘Mocha Dick’ is the insult I never knew I never needed.

*Deep breath*

*Whitney Houston voice*: AND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

Our Cod is an angry Cod

You’d think out of the five covers on this cover that at least one of them would be passable.

Free Willy, but where Willy is relentlessly bent on annihilation.

I

what

I could stare at this cover of nothing for 500 hours trying to find significance that doesn’t exist.

This is the most apt representation of the book I’ve seen yet.

The Rainbow Fish is back, and he’s pissed.

I can only imagine this looming white whale gently encouraging this vulnerable little ship in the voice of John Hammond talking to those velociraptor babies in Jurassic Park.

Come on, little one. Come on!

Joaquin Phoenix is back on his weird experimental art kick, and it’s even less funny than last time.

With all this phallic imagery, how could Ahab not succeed?

Someone’s only made it through the outline stage of their art class.

Time to bury this tiny whale with this tiny shovel.

I’m not entirely sure what type of animal that’s supposed to be, but I’m glad it’s giving the ship a mutual belly rub.

“DON’T YOU DIE ON ME, YOU SON OF A BITCH.”

“Tell Drusilla … *cough* … tell Drusilla … I’m sorry.”

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BizarreVictoria Update

Hi, All! I paused for breath and realised I haven’t updated my blog in about six weeks. That’s not a great sign, is it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog and how much it’s meant to me to do over the last five years. It got me through my PhD without going insane, and it got me through the dreadful post-PhD job hunt without despairing of the world entirely. My readers have been delightful and endlessly supportive.

I’ve gone from posting every single day (during the first year of the PhD) to three times a week (the next three or four years) to posting only once per week (this last spell). Unfortunately, I’m eighteen months into my first lectureship and I just don’t have the bandwidth to keep updating regularly–even once a week. I barely have time to think about and source material for the blog, let alone write it (and let alone write it and try to be funny about it).

I’d like to keep this blog going in the spirit with which I started it: as an escape from work, rather than making the blog become work itself. To that end, I’m not going to pretend like I’ll update this with any sense of regularity, but I WILL, on occasion (maybe a few times a year) release another Bad Book Covers post, or a Victorian Snark Theatre 3000, or maybe just a good ole fashioned swear-filled post about some previously-unknown-to-me event or character from the nineteenth century.

I’ll still be active on Twitter (@BizarreVictoria) and you can watch my rants and shenanigangry over there. See you all soon, I hope . . . .

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Buffalo Bill and Susan B. Anthony

I’m re-reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003) for the third time and stumbled across this story about the unlikely intersection of two huge nineteenth-century celebrities.

A majority of the narrative follows the construction–and ensuing success–of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. At this fair, one of the main attractions was Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people saw this show during the months the Fair was open. It’s hardly surprising that the occasional celebrity guest turned up.

One such guest had had a rough morning at the fair: suffragette Susan B. Anthony had publicly stated (much to the chagrin of Sabbatarians) that the Fair should remain open on Sundays. While at the Fair, she was accosted by one such outraged Sabbatarian, who asked her if she’d prefer any son of hers to attend Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show (apparently the most shocking thing he could think of) rather than go to church.

Anthony responded: “Yes, he would learn far more.” This, of course, confirmed the Sabbatarian’s already-held belief that all suffragists and suffragettes were wicked.

The confrontation was seen by many people, and word got back to Buffalo Bill. “When Cody learned of it, he was tickled, so much so that he immediately sent Anthony a thank-you note and invited her to attend his show. He offered her a box at any performance she chose.

“At the start of the performance Cody entered the ring on horseback, his long gray hair streaming from under his white hat, the silver trim of his white jacket glinting in the sun. He kicked his horse into a gallop and raced toward Anthony’s box. The audience went quiet.

“He halted his horse in a burst of dirty and dust, removed his hat, and with a great sweeping gesture bowed until his head nearly touched the horn of his saddle.

Anthony stood and returned the bow and–‘as enthusiastic as a girl,’ a friend said–waved her handkerchief at Cody.

“The significance of the moment escaped no one. Here was one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future. The encounter brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers.

“The frontier may indeed have closed at last, as Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed in his history-making speech at the fair, but for that moment it stood there glittering in the sun like the track of a spent tear” (320-21).

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Guiseppe Mezzofanti

I first found this story in the New Yorker here. The article is about hyperpolyglots, or people who speak at least eleven languages (the general definition of a polyglot is someone who speaks at least five languages).

One of history’s most remarkable hyperpolyglots was Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who reputedly spoke over seventy languages.

As the article states: “Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal, was fluent in at least thirty languages and studied another forty-two, including, he claimed, Algonquin. In the decades that he lived in Rome, as the chief custodian of the Vatican Library, notables from around the world dropped by to interrogate him in their mother tongues, and he flitted as nimbly among them as a bee in a rose garden.

Lord Byron, who is said to have spoken Greek, French, Italian, German, Latin, and some Armenian, in addition to his immortal English, lost a cursing contest with the Cardinal and afterward, with admiration, called him a “monster.” Other witnesses were less enchanted, comparing him to a parrot.

“But his gifts were certified by an Irish scholar and a British philologist, Charles William Russell and Thomas Watts, who set a standard for fluency that is still useful in vetting the claims of modern Mezzofantis: Can they speak with an unstilted freedom that transcends rote mimicry?”

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Rukhmabai

I found this story in Eric Berkowitz’s Sex & Punishment: 4000 Years of Judging Desire (2013). All quotations are from that book.

“Rukhmabai, the daughter of an educated Hindu family, had been married off to Dadaji Bhikaji (variously described in the press was ‘ignorant,’ ‘idle,’ a ‘boor,’ and a ‘coolie’) in 1876, when she was eleven and he was nineteen. The marriage was never consummated, and she remained with her stepfather until 1884, when Dadaji demanded that she come to live with him.

“Bucking thousands of years of tradition, she refused. He then went to the Bombay High Court to get an order forcing her to comply. Dadaji lost the first stage of the case, when the British judge ruled that there was no marriage because there had been no sex, and because hi claim for ‘restitution of conjugal relations’ had no root in Hindu law.

“Dadaji appealed and won; the higher court found that while native law didn’t approve such a suit, it didn’t forbid it either. Rukhmabai was ordered to go to her husband, or to jail for six months.

“Her stepfather then paid Dadaji two thousand rupees [about £370 or $470 in today’s money) to drop his suit, after which Rukhmabai traveled to England to study medicine and become a physician. She eventually returned to India to head up a women’s dispensary.

“The case was picked up in mid-stream by the London Times and immediately became a political and media football. Everyone had an opinion. Not only were Rukhmabai’s stream of letters about her case and the dark fate of Indian child brides generally published and intensely discussed, but so were the opinions of Hindu nationalists, marriage-law reform advocates, and various members of the British ruling class. The controversy tied the bodies of Hindu girls to the stability of British rule in India.

“To Rukhmabai, the issue was inequality: Indian girls were being sacrificed to a system that robbed them of an education and personal freedom [….] Rukhmabai’s views were not shared by Indian nationalists, who regarded British tampering with local marriage practices as an assault on Indian pride.

“British opinion on the Rukhmabai case was divided. Even as the British viceroy cabled messages to his colleagues that ‘it would never do to all her to be put into prison,’ a British ex-judge in India opined in a letter to The Times that ‘in Eastern climates girls are precocious, and, unless early settled in her home, the girl is almost certain to disgrace her family‘ [i.e., Eastern girls become sexually mature at a very early age and, unless married off young, they’ll turn promiscuous]. He went on to observe that the ‘real mistake was educating [Rukhmabai] so as to make her unfit company for her husband‘” (364-66).

Her case was a huge contributing factor to the 1891 Age of Consent Act, which changed the age of consent for girls from 10 to 12 in British India. Girls were still allowed to marry at 10, but consummation had to wait two years–although its unclear how much this new legislation changed anything in practice.

Rukhmabai went on to lead a full medical career for the next thirty-five years. She was also a strong advocate against the practice of Purdah, which is the Indian custom of widows being secluded from society after the death of her husband. Rukhmabai thought it was a sexist practice that rendered especially young widows useless and denied them the chance to live a full life and to contribute to society.

Her loutish husband remarried the year after the dissolution of their marriage. She never remarried, but after her ex-husband’s death in 1904, she decided to wear a white sari in compliance with the Hindu traditions of widowhood. She died in 1955.

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