Since I first wrote this essay it has obviously done nothing to reduce the scourge of fantasy films. They continue to pour out of Hollywood and elsewhere to thrill video gamers and anyone who yearn to, escape a real world with Donald Trump in it. With the Academy Awards imminent there are likely to be two films in the mix that our fantasy films in their own right. One of these, Black Panther was released to great critical acclaim and fits the fantasy category most accurately as it conjures a fanciful advanced African kingdom “Wakanda” that possesses a much-coveted substance called “vibranium.” Normally, this would be enough puerile crap to put me off, but this film doubles and triples down with every freakin’ superhero, comic book, video game cliché it can find and then invents a few of its own. I get it: Blacks had long been abused by racism, stereotypification and consignment two minor roles in films, with only a few exceptions, and it is long overdue for them to get a motion picture the counters all of those negatives. But this movie, aside from a talented cast, some special effects, and good acting, is mostly silly, boring bullshit. One suspects that all the hype about it owes to the same form political correctness that gets critics of Israeli mistreatments of Palestinians charged with “anti-Semitism.”
But self-abuse parody is not limited to African-American directors writers and actors. Crazy Rich Asians, perhaps because it’s fantasy is that greedy, materialistic, self-absorbed, Asian “bananas” could be in any sense entertaining or interesting, or even undeserving of contempt, might be even worse at replacing prevailing negative stereotypes of gold-digging Asian women and feminized Asian men (check out the make-up department’s obvious paint-on six-pack on the male lead) with mega-riches, designer clothes, ultra-mansions, luxury cars and 3-star food. A few minutes in into the movie and you know the whole plot; suffice it to, say that it is driven by a crazy bitch Asian “tiger-mom.” Set in Singapore, but casted with all Asian-American actors, this boring, unintelligent, un-funny, poorly written movie not only makes the point of degrading an educated, self-made economics teacher (because education or hard work doesn’t result in absurd wealth), it sets Asians on screen back to Charlie Chan and Fu Manchu.
I am a realist. I don’t mean that in a personal sense, because I realize that I am a in many respects also a “romantic.” But, since I define being a “romantic” as someone who acts as if life can imitate art, underneath all art is analysis, and analysis requires being a realist. If that syllogistic pretzel is not too off-putting I can get to what I am not—I am not a fantasist, by which I mean is that I don’t care for fantasy, especially in art. I know this because I tried three times to read Gabriel Maria Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, widely regarded as a great book by a great writer. Sorry, it’s “el snorro.” In my lexicon, “magical realism,” which is what Marquez’s opus is categorized, is a contradiction in terms (like “intelligent Republican”).
Reality, and hence realism, is so rich with meaning and interpretation from the phenomenological angles of everyday experience that I find fantasy to be generally intellectually lame and jejune (sort of like religion, but I’ll deal with that elsewhere). Harry Potter fans will say, “Oh, yeah, look how much money the author made with fantasy! And Lord of the Rings did a ton of box office and got an Academy Award!” Well, there are a lot of lame brains out there who perhaps need this tripe to escape reality but, frankly, wizards, angels, talking animals, trolls, man-beasts, fairies, or whatever else is left over from your childhood that can be rendered in CGI, is nothing compared to the discovery of DNA, the achievements of the Space Program, the magic of a great city, or what’s contained in a single drop of sea water.
I am not referring to good science fiction, or other writing based in reality; I am referring to writing that denies reality, that has neither basis nor extension in fact other than that there are people who like to believe in elves and brownies. I don’t read fantasy for the same reason I never got involved with drugs—the reality is better than the delusion. Maybe there is an alternate reality (I’ll have to ask Jesus), but the only reason to be interested in it is that there are a lot of people who are cuckoo crazy with it and that makes them both objects of curiosity and, worse, often plain dangerous.
Still, I recognize that fantasy, particularly in books and films is a hot subject. Recently, in a fruitless attempt to discover why I forced myself to watch DVD’s of Earthsea, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, and one of those godawfully boring Lord of the Rings films. I had nightmares for days that a wizard had put a spell on me that caused my MacBook Pro to turn into a PC with Windows Vista. One morning I thought that when I stepped into my shower I passed through some magical barrier that transported me to a Midwestern Red state where all the people had the face of Ann Coulter and the only television channel was Fox News. Pigs with the face of Karl Rove were chasing latte-sipping liberals and forcing them to recant that they “ don’t hate the troops.” Then police not only had guns, but also vaginal probes.
But when I came out of it—thanks to the fact that my shower runs cold when you first turn it on—I had a revelation of sorts. I would write a fantasy screenplay of my own, and riches and awards would be mine. Fantasy-lovers would be lined up around blocks at movie theaters to see . . .
THE MAGIC WAND OF OTHERLANDIA (or something like that)
Treatment for a Feature Motion Picture
Guido Fantucci daredevil freeclimber is dripping sweat as his chalked hands search for a grip on the sheer side of Mt. Montemount in the highlands of Scotland. [A lot of fantasy stuff originates in the chillier latitudes where the combination of heavy drinking and haggis is more mind-boggling than blue meth.]
Guido loses his handhold, falls several feet, a sharp rock tearing off his climbing pants on the way down, but he is saved from plunging to certain death when (rather painfully) his, ahem, “manhood” becomes wedged in a rock crevice, stopping his descent. It is stuck and, try as he might, Guido can’t get “Massimo” dislodged (hey, all guys gives their penises names; isn’t that right, Vunderbar?).
Hours become days and Guido is wondering if he will end up dying with Massimo wedged inthe wrong type of fissure for which it was intended. [Right about now you are remembering that movie* with James Franco playing the (real) rock climber guy who got his arm wedged in a crevice and had to cut himself free with the auto-amputation tool on his Swiss Army knife. OK, I’m being a little derivative; so sue me.]
Guido contemplates this gruesome solution for a few moments, preferring it had been his arm that got jammed rather than “Massimo.” [There are still a lot of things you can do with one arm, he reasons, but . . . ] With his free hand he takes out his Vatican Swiss Guard Army knife and decides instead to use the rosary tool [it’s right next to the auto-castration tool if one is interested in becoming a saint.]
Now we see Guido frantically beading his way through decade after decade on his rosary and going in an out of consciousness from lack of hydration. [We realize that those who paid to see Guido un-man himself will probably leave at this point in disappointment, but we already have their money.] But now, from Guido’s POV we see that the deposit of Puffin guano on a nearby rock surface looks an awful lot like, yup, the BVM**, or maybe just a beautiful fairy queen (whose name is not Bruce).
This is where magical realism works its (ahem) narrative magic. This is where Guido enters a fantasyland where forces good in the form of heroes, supported by talking lions, magical swords, virginal princesses, contend over fantastic landscapes against mythical monsters evil warlords. Magical stones, amulets, coins, grails, nose rings (pretty much anything will do) are invested with supernatural powers that have been stolen by evil bastards intent deflowering virgin princesses and mounting the head of the talking lion in a sports bar, or just enslaving the whole world for some dastardly enterprise. There is always small, wise frog-eyed sage, bald, with wrinkled bluish skin, (actually looks a lot like Massimo with pointy ears, or the Papa John’s Pizza guy) and speaks in sententious bullshit aphorisms with a raspy voice. Fantastic dramatis personae also requires an innocent Bilbo Baggins or Hogwarts type for the wankers who pay money to see this drivel to identify with.
It doesn’t matter how you put all this crap together because nothing is governed by the laws of Nature—animals talk, people fly, there is a menagerie supernatural powers possessed by witches, goblins, wizards, trolls, and assorted spirits—because there is nothing to constrain their permutation in a manner that makes any sense and conformance with reality. Not that there is anything wrong with imagination, but it is not all that interesting or enlightening than when there is a mountain in the way you confer the gift of flight, or . . .
Geez, we almost left hapless Guido hanging there by his . . .well, you know. So where does he come into this fantastic scenario? [Damned if I know; but I got myself into this and with fantasy just about anything is possible to write myself out of it.] OK, here goes . . .
So Guido stares at that BVM guano deposit that now seems to come to life and comes toward him beckoning AND, suddenly he finds himself in Otherlandia, an alternate reality(?) where flowers sing harmony like the Andrews Sisters, beasts that normally would be predator and prey frolic in meadows, cats pee in toilets and then use the flush handle (I got that one from a YouTube video). Annnnyway, turns out that Guido is the hero guy they have been looking for because the guy who was supposed to be the hero and rescue the princess from Gfnyrd “The Un-Pronouncible,” (king of a bunch of unwashed low-life scum who ride Harley’s and crap in bird-feeders) is a hunk, but is gay and is involved with an elf called “Touchtoe.” [The hero always has to marry the princess. But it is best if she is a virgin and has no tattoos. Yeah, I know . . .]
Enter Guido, and none too soon, as Gfnyrd has been watching porn and popping blue boosters for a week preparing to deflower the princess. She is chained in a dungeon and being watched over by Gfnyrd’s pet Chinese griffin that is part dragon and part panda, has wheels instead of feet and attacks with projectile vomit. [Man, this fantasy stuff just seems to take over and write itself!]
But let’s cut to the chase—that’s after the unbelievably long, boring clash of armies of a squigillion computer-generated warriors on a computer-generated battle field, the victory of the good people led by their new hero, Guido Fantucci, the rescue of the princess, the punishment of Gfnyrd, who is forced to marry Ann Coulter (so chooses suicide)—forget it, let’s cut to after the chase [Jesus, how the hell do I get out of this movie!]. Princess Cialia has married Guido and they are in their wedding chamber. [At last, the obligatory PG-13 porking scene.]
Turns out the princess has a tattoo that say’s “Just Put the Money on the Dresser and Leave” between a pair of nice, perky . . . . It is at this point in our movie that the Princess takes some carnal initiative not indicative of her reputed virginal innocence, causing Guido to faint from the combination of joy and the netherly rush of every available red corpuscle. [Fade Out to keep that PG-13]
Final Scene. When Guido comes to (awakes) we find him no longer in Otherlandia in the bed with Cialia. He is back clinging to the guano-splashed wall. BUT WAIT! Something is different; that entrapping crevice has been forced just a few millimeters wider. Yes, just wide enough to liberate Massimo! “Oh, Madonna mia, grazie, grazie, mille grazie!” Ecce homo! All that’s left is to ROLL CREDITS and start counting the moolah.
So what saved Guido? Magic realism?
Nah, just the real power of priapic hydraulics.
©2013 and 2019, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 02.06.2019)
*127 Hours (2010)
**That would be the “Blessed Virgin Mary.”