Category Archives: The 1990s

“It happened to someone who knows someone you know…You’re next” – Reviewing Urban Legend (1998)

I recently watched the 1998 horror movie Urban Legend. I don’t know what took me so long – I’ve been wanting to see it for a long time. I can actually remember the poster hanging on the wall of my high school cafeteria back when the movie was still in the theatres, or had just come out on VHS or whatever, and being intrigued by it. It’s not that I ever thought the movie looked particularly good, but as I’ve mentioned before I always loved urban legends, so I thought a horror movie based on the subject must be pretty interesting.

After having actually watched Urban Legend the idea of basing a horror flick on urban legend remains the best thing about the flick which, sadly, is not really all that well executed. Probably inspired by the wave of teen horror/thriller flicks that swept the world in the late ’90s (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer), the movie focuses on a group of college kids at the fictional college Stanley Halls. The kids grow increasingly concerned as it seems a killer is on the loose on campus, killing college students, basing his murders on famous urban legends.

“Turn around, bright eyes”
Like I said, I really like that idea. Our culture has so many great gory legends, they seem to be almost begging to be filmed. And while the college setting was probably chosen chiefly because the movie was to be marketed to teenagers, I also like it that the urban legend horror flick is set in a dormitory milieu. Not only does the college campus serve as the frame of many a popular urban legend (like “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Lights“, which is actually featured in the movie, and the “Our College Has No Virginal Women” one), college dorms also seem plausible as a setting for urban legends to get spread around.

The movie also has a compelling opening scene: A lovely co-ed is driving home one stormy night as she runs out of gas. She stops at a gas station but is unnerved by the creepy looking gas station attendant who happens to have a weird stutter. As he asks her to step out of the car and urges her follow into a locked garage, she freaks out and maces him, rushes to her car and drives off. Alas, as it turns out the poor attendant was only trying to warn her about a stranger hiding in her backseat. Once she’s back on the road, said stranger emerges, killing the girl with an axe. The plot will sound familiar to most people, and the movie pays great hommage to this famous legend, building up the suspense slowly. In a particularly nice move on the director’s part, the girl is listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in her car, featuring the repeated lyrics “Turn around… turn around, bright eyes”, which I find to be a fun, and not too obvious piece of foreshadowing.

I actually think that most of the murder scenes of the movie are pretty effective. It’s simply a thrill to see these familiar old tales acted out, and the “Scratching Noise on the Car Roof” is very nicely done and quite scary, as is the movie’s rendition of the Flashing Headlights tale.

Hey! It’s that Guy!
The piecing together of these scenes into a movie plot with real, fleshed-out characters, however, goes down less smoothly. Urban legend characters are traditionally vaguely defined archtypes who don’t need any real introduction: The Babysitter, The Killer, The Ignorant Tourist etc. Since the urban legend-teller will usually insist that these are people he knows or at least knows of, we will usually be able to relate to the characters even if we know very little about them. This aspect is of course lost in a movie, where we’re constantly aware that we’re watching a piece of fiction played out by actors. So an urban legend movie is  dependant on our being able to identify with the characters on screen, and this is a huge problem in Urban Legend. The casting consists almost entirely of secondary actors from 1990s tv-shows. Between Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, Toni from 90210, Gersten from Twin Peaks, and Jordan from My So Called Life the H!ITG-factor  gets kind of distracting, and none of the actors really have the presence required for the big screen. I suppose Tara Reid is the one household name among the cast, having starred in a Coen brothers film, but she hardly stands a chance at carrying the movie by herself. The actors also aren’t given much help from the director, Jamie Blanks, who fails to guide his audience sufficiently in the exposition of the film. It took me forever to even figure out who the protagonist was supposed to be, and I never felt that I got to know the characters well enough to actually care about them. I suppose part of this is due to Blanks wishing to keep his audience guessing – will one of the main characters turn out to be the murderer? – but it is ultimately disruptive as it prevents the viewer from truly identifying with anyone.

Coincidence and plot holes
And speaking of the whodunnit aspect of the movie, the big revelation falls somewhat flat. For a while it seemed that the killer would be revealed to be some kind of supernatural power, like a vengeful ghost, and I liked that idea: There is something ghostly in the repetitive, ephemeral nature of folklore. But then the plot took a turn that revealed the murderer to be alive and kicking. And not only is this twist not very interesting, it also reveals a motherload of plot holes in the story.

The thing is that urban legend deaths usually depend on a series of outrageous coincidents – indeed Snopes has an entire section devoted to freak deaths. The killings portrayed in Urban Legend are no exceptions: There is really no way a person could plan something like a reenactment of the Killer in the Backseat, for example. Even if one could plan for the victim’s car to run out of gas in a precise spot, how would one plan for the gas station attendant to have a speech impediment that keeps him from warning the victim? And even if one could plan that how would one plan for him not to have the presence of mind to write down his warning once his voice failed him? Etc. etc. This breaking down of the story perhaps seems nitpicky, but my point is that the plot holes could have easily been avoided: If the director and the writers had allowed for a supernatural explanation of the events, the prosaic planning of the killings would have been irrelevant.

Pop rocks, rollercoasters and remakes
And that’s  my general point with this review of Urban Legend. I know it must seem like a bit of a cheap shot for me to be dissing a b-rated horror/slasher movie from 1998 the director of which did not go on to enjoy a glorious career. But I wanted to review it because I do think that the movie showed some great potential and presented an interesting idea for a horror flick. The writers certainly knew their folklore, and the filmmakers had a fun, meta approach to the subject. In some of the movie’s more succesful scenes, urban legends are casually worked into conversation, thus demonstrating how great a power folklore has over our conceptions of reality: A college professor dares a student to consume the alleged fatal combination of soda and pop rocks, and a guy tries to get our protagonist’s attention by telling her that a woman was killed during the recording of The Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster”. It’s funny and relatable and again; urban legends will never not be fascinating as a subject.

So, while I normally detest the whole “re-make” craze going on in Hollywood these days, maybe it’s time for a re-make of Urban Legend?

I would go see it. And were I to go to the movies by car, I would probably check the backseat twice before closing the car door. So obviously the 1998 movie has managed to do a few things right.

“Every little thing I do” – In Defence of Boy Bands

Out of nowhere I got to thinking about boy bands the other day and about how there aren’t a lot of boy bands around these days. And as I sat down to reminisce with an ‘N Sync video on youtube, I realised that I think that this is sort of a shame.

This is a really weird thing for me to be saying, because I hated boy bands back in the day. I’d like to say that this was only because I didn’t like the actual songs, and while it’s true the songs were not to my liking and that I and much preferred, say, nerding over The Magic Flute in my teens, a big part of my dislike of boy bands was due to my being a bit of a douche as a youth. I’ve mentioned before that I detested anything popular back then, and oh boy were boy bands ever popular in the 1990s. When I was very young it was Take That, then came Backstreet Boys, and Five, and ‘N Sync, and there was also some Boyzone and New Kids on the Block  in there somewhere, and I hated all of it. But then I watched that video the other day, with an open mind and well past most of my youthful doucheness, and you know what? I think I get it now. I get what boy bands are about.  And I approve.

It’s not that I like the song, because the song is every bit as generic as I remembered. It’s not just my crush on Justin Timberlake talking either, although Lord knows I have a thing for Justin Timberlake. No, it’s the dancing. To be more specific, it’s the dancing combined with the singing. Dancing in perfect sync is difficult, doing so while singing is even harder and certainly a lot more complicated than just looking cute while singing a song by yourself in a romantic setting. Being able to pull off perfect in sync dancing and singing is quite a feat and will always be somewhat spectacular and impressive to watch, especially when done by attractive, well-groomed young men. What the boy bands did with their elaborate dancing routines was to send off the signal of a serious effort being made in order to please a female audience. With their performances they created a piece of irresistible fiction about young men teaming up and going out of their way to satisfy a woman, and I suppose ‘N Sync were the ones who were most keenly aware of this. Not only was the band named after their charming synchronic dancing abilities, their videos also tended to revolve around the theme of male subordination – the above video was not the only ‘N Sync video to make use of the imagery of the band being a set of dolls or puppets in the hands of a young woman:

(This video makes no sense, by the way. The beginning is ok, with the puppets on strings, but why do the puppets then proceed to fall on to a moving train when their strings are cut? And where does the blue, zero-gravity room fit into the narrative? Oh, well.)

And you know what, as far as female fantasies go, I don’t think this is a half bad one. Why not indulge in a fantasy for once in which the girl is not trying to get the attention of a distant, aloof, and troubled man? In my day that guy was called Dylan McKay and I suppose his name is Edward Cullen today, and really they’re both bullshit with their furrowed brows, brooding, preoccupied personalities, and tendencies towards substance abuse. Most girls will have their fair share of real-life heartbreak, so why not lean back and be pampered by the fictitious attentions of a perfectly dancing set of good-looking young men? At their best (i.e.: Justin Timberlake) boy bands gave off a care-free, tongue-in-cheek, roguish charm, communicated through a painstakingly prepared choreography and pitch perfect vocals. This had clearly taken endless hours of training and had nothing to do with the amateurism and quick fame of today’s numerous television talent shows. It presented young girls with the idea that they were worth wooing, and that wooing should take the shape of real effort.  I miss that fantasy. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here goes: I think we need to bring back the boy bands.

The Mixtapes of my Summers

When I was a kid, I used to go on summer vacations with my parents and my brother, and every year from the age of 10 and onwards – like many other vacation-bound kids I imagine – I would make a mixtape of music to bring on the trip so that I would have something to listen to, sitting in the backseat or late at night when falling asleep in a hotel room or a summer cabin somewhere in the world. Sometimes I would just copy an entire album I liked on to a tape, and sometimes I would pick out songs from lots of different albums and by many different artists and mix them together. But I always chose the songs or albums with great care, acutely aware that whatever music I picked would be – to my ears – affected by the impressions of the holiday, and would come to remind me about the holiday forever after. Below are the most important songs to me of each year between the years 1993 and 2001.

1993. “All That She Wants” by Ace of Base
I was ten, and had been taught English in school for a year. This had tuned my ears to English-language pop music, and Ace of Base was all the rage for Danish tweens at that time, more melodic and sweeter-sounding than the eurodance that was in fashion. I brought a tape containing their entire album Happy Nation with me when my family went on holiday to the Danish island Bornholm that year. The album was a hand-me-down from my brother who had liked the group for a time, but quickly tired of it as I believe most people did who knew English well enough to see how bad the lyrics were. He rolled his eyes at me when I sat next to him in the car with my walkman, bopping my head to the music and smiling broadly. Bornholm is situated very close to Sweden, where the pop group was based, so in a way it was a site-specific album for me to bring on that holiday, although I never made that connection back then.

Years later, 11 years later to be exact, chance would have it that I was to work with the actress who played the Man Eater in the video. She was lovely and attractive, but sweet-natured and intelligent and not an cynical man eater in real life at all.

1994. “Fuld af nattens stjerner” by Sebastian
In the fifth grade, which I had just passed in the summer of 1994, I had become very interested in musical theatre after playing the princess, a singing role, in a school production of Aladdin. I also sang in a school choir that put up a musical every year, and somehow I had become convinced (mistakenly) that the production of the coming season would be a popular Danish musical version of Treasure Island, composed by a popular musician who went by the name of Sebastian. My family and I were visiting another Danish island, Ærø, that summer, and I ambitiously devoted my holiday to the studying of that musical. I had my heart set on the part of Mrs. Hawkins, Jim’s mother, who had the following solo:

Every chance I got during this vacation, I snuck away from my family so that I could unabashedly practise singing this song – I remember singing it to the waves on a beach facing the Baltic Sea on a grey, windy day when I was absolutely sure nobody would hear me. It’s kind of a lovely song, I suppose, even if the synthesizer sounds crummy.

The choir never did produce that musical, but I landed the lead in the production we did put up – a musical about Moses, so I guess my efforts weren’t a complete waste. This would also be the year that I landed a part as a child dancer in Tannhäuser at The Royal Theatre, thus developing the love of opera that has followed me since then.

1995. “If I Only Knew” by Tom Jones
In 1995 my family went to Scotland. I was 12 and still mostly a happy, innocent child. An unpleasant incident that had taken place on a summer camp a few weeks earlier, however, had stirred something within me and still haunted me and made me uneasy.

What had happened was that I had met a boy, a bold-looking, redhaired, freckled boy, whom I thought to be flirting with me when once, at the beginning of the camp, he appeared leaning casually in a doorframe, looking me over and delivering some kind of pick-up line, the wording of which I have long forgotten. I was immediately charmed and during the next weeks of the summer camp, I made sure to smile at him whenever I had the chance, hoping to encourage him. Maybe he wanted to be my boyfriend, I thought. Maybe we would hold hands. He must have humored me a little for at least a while, but in the end he apparently got tired of the charade. I was walking through a hallway one hot, sunny afternoon when he came walking towards me – chance would have it that we were alone. I smiled at him as usual, but in return he suddenly quite roughly grabbed my upper arms and pushed me hard up against a wall. I hurt the back of my head. “How ugly you are,” he murmured at me, his face close to mine, his eyes angry and hard-looking, his hands squeezing my arms so as to almost leave bruises, “How skinny and disgusting. You’re so ugly. You look like a mouse.” I managed to free myself from his grab, and scurried away.

The experience had deeply unsettled me, and the violence of it kept coming back to me as I sat in the backseat, watching the landscape of the Highland rush by. Sadly, but typically, what I took away from it was not the conclusion that the boy was vile, a bully, an abuser, but rather that I had been foolish to think that he would ever be interested in me, that anyone would ever want me in that way, and that I should be ashamed of having felt for him the things I had.

Tom Jones’ “If I Only Knew”, however, seemed like a fun song to me, and provided a kind of haven from these thoughts. It treated the confusing adult sexuality that I was dimly becoming aware of with a humoristic, easy-going attitude that comforted me.

1996. “Why Does it Hurt So Bad” from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack
I swear I did not even like this song. But the confusion that I had vaguely felt the preceeding summer, had in the course of the seventh grade grown to become a full-blown chaos as puberty had hit me. We went to Wales that year, and the pictures of me from the trip show a person who looks more like a hobo than a young girl. My hair was stringy and too long, my clothes never matched, and when I smiled I revealed a mouth full of metal and strategically placed, small rubber bands, designed to fix my prominent overbite. I was so confused by everything that was happening to me that when it came for me to put together a mixtape, I just picked the only album I had on CD (I had only just gotten a CD player for my 13th birthday), which was the soundtrack from Waiting to Exhale, given to me by an aunt.

I had not even seen the movie.
I never listened to the song again after that holiday.

1997. “Jesus to a Child” by George Michael
People roll their eyes when one mentions this song – it really was played into the grave during 1996 and 1997. But it held a real significance to me during this particular summer.

I’ve sometimes looked back and wondered if I wasn’t suffering from an undiagnosed mild-to-moderate depression during this time. I felt terrible, permanently terrible. It didn’t come out of nowhere, it had been brought on by the diagnosis in late May that I had scoliosis and would have to wear a scoliosis brace until I had stopped growing. I was going to be hospilatized for a week in August when the treatment would start, and I spent the interim summer months in a kind of limbo of hopeless expectance and dull dread. For the first time in my life I felt that there was nothing to look forward to. Whatever I hoped to do after the summer would be marred by the thought of the brace, and I couldn’t even allow myself to long for the time when the treatment would be over, because nobody knew when that would be. Women grew to be tall on my father’s side of the family, while their growth stopped much sooner on my mother’s side of the family. There was a risk that I would be wearing the brace until I was 18, maybe even 20, maybe even older than that – my father’s mother had continued to grow even after she had given birth to her first child. And during all this time, I would be physically restrained, and I would be different. Stilted, not in my actual growth, but in the growth that makes young girls attractive.

My family went to South England, and then to a summer cabin by the sea in Northern Jutland, but I hardly remember any of what we saw. I had no use for reality and all its bleak prospects, so I withdrew from it. I was sulky and my family tried in vain to cheer me up. From inside the walls of my mind, I remember fantasizing vaguely about picking up some boy at my own age, perhaps a year older, and let him have his way with me behind one of the numerous dunes in the vicinity of the summer cabin, sandy, barren dunes, full of sharp, dry, yellow straws that would leave your fingers bleeding if you let them slip through your hands. This wasn’t a fantasy of physical pleasure or romance. I was so young that the idea of sex was still something scary, perilous, and unpleasant to me, anecdotes about blood and grotesque-looking body parts, grainy close-ups of stigmatizing sores and blisters in the books we studied in health class. The fantasy was a wish for selfdestruction, for self-ruin. Not quite like wanting to cut your own arms like the teenagers do these days, and not quite like wanting to pinch yourself in the arm to try to escape a bad dream. But something in between those two sentiments.

I had brought George Michael’s Older album with me, and I do recall getting some small kind of consolation out of “Jesus to a Child”. The minor key, the idea of a Christ-like comforting or redemption, and the sexually ambigious singer with his almost falsetto voice. It made me feel safe.

1998. “Many Rivers to Cross”
My family went to Norway to go hiking, I was about to start high school.

I had taken a liking to Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” and included it on my mixtape, and I distinctly remember sitting in my parents’ car in Oslo on a summer evening, waiting for the ferry back to Copenhagen to dock, listening to that song. The seat of the car pushed up the brace so that it dug into my ribs, my skin was hot and blistered under the massive plastic material from lack of ventilation in the summer heat, and I felt somewhat melancholy, but mostly I was hopeful, wondering what the future had in store for me. A month after our return to Copenhagen I was examined and it was concluded that I had stopped growing, taking after my petite mother after all, and the discontinuation of the treatment commenced.

1999. “To Emily Wherever I May Find Her” by Simon & Garfunkel
In 1999 I had just discovered Simon & Garfunkel and thought they were great. Nowadays I’m mostly sick of them, but this is one song I still think is rather pretty.

We went to Paris and Alsace with that year. I was annoyed with the presence of my parents, (ungratefully ignoring the fact that they were paying for my trip), but I liked the mild evenings down by the Seine when we would all stroll and sip foreign, delicious beer. And I liked gliding through the pitoresque Alsace landscape, listening to my mixtape, which, absurdly, also included several tracks from Songs from Dawson’s Creek. Surely the darkest of dark horses in my CD collection.

2000. “Death of Queen Dagmar”. Traditional Danish ballad
I was 17 and thus now certainly too old to be going away on holidays with my parents, but I was eager to go because the destination was Southern Jutland. In the past year I had abandoned my sulky, egocentric teenage self for good, and had started becoming genuinely interested in  a number of different cultural phenomena, among these Danish medieval culture. And as chance would have it,  Southern Jutland was one of the most important and prosperous part of Denmark during that era, and still the home of a number of interesting medieval landmarks and artifacts. For the trip, I had borrowed an album of choir versions of medieval Danish ballads to bring with me on this holiday, to create the right mood.

My favourite was “Death of Queen Dagmar”, a ballad describing the untimely demise of a popular Danish queen. Dagmar lived in the 12th century and died in childbirth, mourned by the entire country. The stanzas of the ballad take us through the final stages of her illness, her husband King Valdemar (also a highly popular monarch) receiving the news of her fragile state, his rushing to her side only to find her already dead, and her ghost’s brief return from the dead to bid Valdemar farewell and have him promise to do certain things after her death – making her son Kanute the heir to the throne (which Valdemar did) and refrain from marrying a lady named Bengard (which Valdemar went and did anyway) among other things.

It’s a beautiful ballad. I was delighted to find that the chimes of the dome of the Southern Jutland town of Ribe, which is mentioned in the ballad, play the melody every day at noon, in celebration of Queen Dagmar.

2001. “Det første møde” by Edvard Grieg
We went to Norway again, in July. In late June I had been sitting in the auditory at my school, waiting to go up on the stage once my name was called. I remember reminding myself to straighten up and walk confidently and elegantly when I crossed the stage to receive my high school diploma from the principal. The erect, proud posture and the confident stride seemed to stay with me for the rest of that summer. I trotted through the Norwegian mountains with a pride and dignity that I had never had during my actual high school years. My limbs felt long, and strong, and supple.

My mixtapes that year included Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, because by that age the love of opera that I had harboured since Tannhäuser in 1995 had overtaken my taste in music almost completely, and I rarely listened to anything else. But in keeping with the summer before and the idea of bringing along site-specific music, I had also brought quite a lot of Grieg lieder, and I listened to them over and over and enjoyed them immensely. Feeling healthy and young as I did, and my dark hair brightened somewhat by the Northern sun, I felt connected to the strong, sturdy, nordic girls of the Grieg songs who loved and made love and lost and grieved. My favourite song was “Det første møde” – “the first [love] encounter”. It fascinated me how the melody was first straightforward and happy and in a major key, only to become mysterious-ringing, piano like a whispering, flirting with the minor key and hinting at something magical and strange and maybe even dangerous in the repetion of the stanza.

This was the last holiday I went on with my family, and my last summer mixtape. By the next summer I had moved out to live on my own.

“In My Opinionation” – Blossom revisited

So, a couple of months ago, a facebook friend of mine mentioned Blossom in a Big Bang Theory related status update. I’d more or less completely forgotten about Blossom, and I thought I’d check out an episode or two, just to see if I remembered anything. What happened after this is not quite clear to me. All I know is that somehow, over the following two months, I managed to watch every episode of Blossom. Always eager to share my weird guilty pleasures with you guys, my readers, here’s a review of the show. And no, this post is not an April’s Fool. I really did watch all five seasons of Blossom.

A Very Special Show
I did not embark on my Blossom-watching quest with great expectations. The show used to be on Danish public service television every week from my eighth and up until my thirteenth year, and yet I had no clear memories of the show, other than lots and lots of dorky-looking, big floppy hats, lots of dancing in the opening credits, and an annoying on-going plot about some older brother of Blossom’s who had once been a drug addict, which, even back then, struck me as “Ooo, look at us, we have such a cutting edge family sitcom going on here!”

The hats, you guys. The horrible, horrible hats.

Before I started re-watching the episodes I also found out that the Blossom producers actually coined the phrase “Very special episode” which has since been used in television lingo to describe episodes that are more concerned with sending a positive message to kids than with decent dramaturgy, roughly speaking. So I was sure that I was in for quite a crappy experience when I sat down to re- watch it.

And sure, there is some of that in the show. Blossom’s brother Anthony (Michael Stoyanov), the former drug addict/alcoholic, really is a constant reminder of this. There’s a reference to his substance abuse in just about every episode, and it gets old really fast. They try to flesh his character out somewhat by way of giving him a dry, intellectual comedy routine, but it doesn’t work very well, not to me anyway. Stoyanov strikes me as having deplorably little personality and stage presence, and I never got interested in his very special character.

Six LeMeure (Jenna von Oy)  is absolutely adorable and hilarious, and von Oy is an incredibly good sit-com actor. Fast-talking is her shtick and she does this so well that it’s funny every time. On top of this, she has a wonderful personality and is quite pretty, without being a beauty queen, so she’s an easy person to relate to, and I remember identifiying the most with her character when I watched the show as a young tween girl.

But she, too, falls victim to the Very Special Episode syndrome, especially somewhere around the third season. It seems that the writers were determined to deal with certain issues (teenage drinking, pregnancy scares, relationships to older, married men), but were afraid to hand these immoral story lines to their protagonist Blossom, who was supposed to set an example for young girls. So instead Six got stuck with them, and that’s a darned shame.

The sad violin and the Fish Stick Guy
On the whole, however, I was surprised to find how genuinely funny Blossom was. If you compare it with other family sitcoms from that same era, such as Full House and Step by Step, it’s so much better that it actually almost feels criminal to be speaking of them in the same breath.

Part of the reason is no doubt that some of the actors are very good comedians. I’ve already mentioned Jenna von Oy as Six; Mayim Bialik is also quite charming in a precocious, off-beat kind of way; and while Stoyanov leaves me rather cold as Blossom’s oldest brother, Joey Lawrence is wonderful as her youngest older brother, even if he isn’t given much to work with. He plays your average dumb jock on Blossom, and the writers make the classical sit-com error of taking “dumb” and changing it into “mildly retarted”, so the part could have easily been a disaster. But Lawrence remains a joy to watch throughout the series.  Not just because he’s quite the cutie and grows consistently hotter as he gets older, but because he simply seems so at ease in front of the camera and has such a natural comedic timing.

Just look at this. This is the kind of thing that almost makes up for every 90s fashion disaster ever. Almost.

Ted Wass is also wonderful as Blossom’s rock musician father Nick. His character could have easily been an Uncle Jesse-ish stereotype, but Wass wisely focuses on playing a sympathetic authoritative figure and bringing a dry, subtle, poker-faced humor to his scenes.

Also, the writers of Blossom are a lot less afraid to take risks than those of shows like Full House, and they make some pretty bold dramaturgical choices in several episodes. This often results in a kind of crazy-comedy that you don’t expect to see on an American family show. There is for instance a wonderful scene where Blossom goes to see a woman who claims to have given birth to Nick’s daughter, and the two swap sob-stories about their hard lives while a violin players keeps popping up to accompany their stories with a sad violin (from 3:25). Or the scene where Nick questions Joey about a joint, while Joey thinks they’re talking about condoms (2:44). Or my personal favourite: An episode in which Joey is suddenly having trouble with his baseball and is coached back into the game by Nick dressed up as a character named The Fish Stick Guy, wearing goggles, a rain hat and rain coat and sporting an insane fisherman’s accent while pitching different kinds of fruit and vegetables for Joey to hit (from 3:59).

There’s even some pretty risqué dialogue here and there, such as this:

Blossom: “Can I have your Ding-Dong?
Six: *glares at Blossom*
Blossom: “Compromise: We’ll split it.”
Six: “Right. I’ll have the Ding…”
Blossom: “And I’ll have the Dong. …Did I really just say that?”

Or this:

Father: “Hot date tonight, huh, son?”
Son: “No, I was just going to work on my stamp collection. You know I’m a philatelist, dad.”
Father: “No, you’re not! You just haven’t found the right girl yet.”

Excellent. And definitely not something you’d find on Full House.

Six, Joey, and the story arcs
So, how come I remembered so little of this show? How come it’s generally mostly remembered for the ugly hats and the Very Special Episodes?

Personally, I think it’s because as good as the writers could be when constructing a single episode, as bad were they at writing an actual series. They are just not good at creating story arcs that can hold the interest of an audience. Take Joey and Six, for instance: Six has a crush on Joey from day 1, and since the two of them are only one year apart and both absolutely adorable, it seems like an obvious choice to get them together at some point. Hell, I was ‘shipping the two of them, and I haven’t seriously ‘shipped an early 90s sitcom couple for, oh, 15 years or so. But then the show completely fails to deliver, and Joey ends up with some random girl nobody even cares about.

Similarly, Blossom has a supposedly Deep Romance with a hot rebel named Vinnie, but the show is too darned coy to even tell us if they ever have sex, which, seriously, writers. If you are writing a show about a teenage protagonist and her hopes and dreams, and your audience doesn’t even know whether she’s a virgin or not? You’re doin’ it wrong.

Pictured: Blossom with her flower. Did she give it to Vinnie? WE WILL NEVER KNOW.

Finally, and most annoyingly, somewhere around season 4 or 5 Nick marries an English woman named Carol who is all of a sudden the great love of his life and who brings with her an annoying 8-year-old daughter whom we are supposed to care about (think the Olsen twins, but with a fake English accent that will make you want to stab yourself in the ear with a potato peeler. That.).

But if you can see past these problems, Blossom is worth a re-watch. If nothing else, it’s a nostalgic look back on the innocent, yet horribly ugly 1990s, that doesn’t involve neither Dave Coulier nor Suzanne Somers. And that should count as something.

Happy Groundhog Day! And Happy Candlemass.

It’s Groundhog Day! Happy Groundhog Day! This is exactly what I said to one of my colleagues today and he stared at me blankly. Then I told him the magical tale of the groundhog leaving its burrow and of Bill Murray who had to live through February the 2nd again and again for exactly eight years, eight months and 16 days (thanks, Wolf Gnards!), because that is how long it takes for a man to become worthy of Andie MacDowell’s sweet, sweet love. Then my colleague stared at me even more blankly, and then I felt compelled to say “Ta-daaa! There’s your useless piece of trivia of the day.” Then he laughed.

No, he was very cool about it, actually. And he had every reason to be staring at me blankly, because we don’t have the custom of the groundhog here in Denmark. Instead, we have something called “Kyndelmisse”, or “Candlemass” in English , on today, February the 2nd. Originally it marked the day when the church would initiate its candles, as well as the day when the Virgin Mary was able to go to the temple again after having given birth to the saviour. But that’s long forgotten in Denmark now, and the only reason anyone really remembers it anymore is that the holiday is mentioned in a popular song by poet Steen Steensen Blicher. Written during one of the coldest winters ever in Denmark, the winter of 1838, while the poet was gravely ill with rheumatism, the song describes the cold, hopeless winter landscape of early February, and I remember hearing it for the first time, standing in my kindergarten as a radio played. I thought to myself that song right there was the sound of winter. Beautiful, frail, and melancholic. And because of this, I’ve always thought of Candlemass as a landmark of sorts. February the 2nd is the ultimate desolate winter day, and from now things will only get better. From now on, Spring is near.

So I thought I’d share the song (music by Thomas Laub) with you, and here it is, in a piano version, along with my direct translation of the first and last stanza of the poem:

It is white out here
Candlemass ties its knot
Ruthlessly sharp and harsh
White below, white above
Thickly powered are the trees in the woods
As well as in my orchard

Fervently I’m longing
for Spring, but the winter gets harsher
The wind turns to the North again
Come, South-West wind, ye who conquer the frost
Come with your foggy wings
Come and release the bound earth!

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Okay, so this just about made my entire week:

21 Best Portraits of Luke Perry at DragonCon

I hope it will make yours, too. But to be honest, I don’t see how it could not make a person’s week.

“Cinde-fcking-rella!” – Pretty Woman Revisited

A few days ago I watched Pretty Woman for the first time since I was 11. I hated that movie when I was a kid. Mostly, I think, because it was a popular movie. I was not a kid who usually enjoyed things that were popular. Or, to put it bluntly; I was a snobbish kid. But I’m glad that I overcame my initial dislike of the movie and watched it again, because, you know, it’s actually not a half bad movie.

I read Roger Ebert’s review after watching it, and Ebert makes the point that for a movie about a man starting a relationship with a hooker, Pretty Woman is surprisingly innocent. I can see what he means, but I feel slightly different about it. For me, what’s surprising about the movie is how naturally it seems to linger between “innocent” and “really kind of naughty”. Which admittedly may have to do with how I remembered it from watching it as a kid. Here’s how I remembered the story:

  1. Richard Gere is a rich guy who picks up Julia Roberts, who is a hooker in a terrible blond wig.
  2. Richard Gere is a noble sort of fella, so he doesn’t want to sleep with Julia Roberts, he just pays her to hang out with him.
  3. They hang out and go to the opera to see La Traviata, which moves Julia Roberts to tears. They fall in love.
  4. Richard Gere lets it slip to George from Seinfeld that Julia Roberts is a hooker. George from Seinfeld attempts to buy sex from Julia Roberts who gets upset.
  5. But eventually she forgives Richard Gere.
  6. Something about a sort of staircase? And then a happy ending.

Which is mostly how it plays out, with the notable exception of item no. 2 because Richard Gere’s character TOTALLY HAS SEX WITH JULIA ROBERTS’ PROSTITUTE CHARACTER! And this is not even after he gets to know her and falls in love with her or anything. He has sex with her on the same night that he picked her up from a corner of Hollywood Boulevard. She’s still wearing her awful Hooker Wig while they go at it and everything. So what we have on our hands is a mainstram movie in which the hero, played by one of Hollywood’s favourite leading men (at the time), wittingly buys sex from a prostitute, and I find this to be infinitely more interesting than the Noble Guy Buys Hooker Free story that I thought I remembered from my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of prostitution. I’m about as anti-prostitution as you can get. But I like it that the movie doesn’t shy away from the prostitution angle. It’s more honest that way. If you’re going to make a movie about a guy picking up a hooker, you may as well go all the way. When men pick up a prostitute, it’s usually with the intention of having sex with her, and it would be a travesty to claim something different for the sake of creating a noble movie hero.

“Man, this baby must corner like it’s on rails!”
But the innocence that Ebert mentions is certainly there as well, I agree. It’s especially present in the chemistry between Gere and Roberts, which is quite outstanding. And the cool thing is that it’s not really a sexual chemistry. Of course an element of sex is there, but more than that there’s a kind of buddy-buddy chemistry, and it’s adorable and maybe ulitmately what makes the movie work. Gere and Roberts have a natural, friendly way of being with each other that makes them believable as a couple in spite of the unrealistic rich-dude-falls-for-hooker plot.

It’s there right from the start when they are driving around in Edward’s car. Sure, Vivian grabs Edward’s crotch and announces that “[it’s not quite stiff], but it’s got potential” (which strikes me as such an early 90s movie sex joke, btw, in all its vulgarity. This was clearly the same era that brought us a full view of Sharon Stone’s hoo-ha), but they also talk about cars and other a-sexual stuff, like the fact that your foot is as big as your arm from your elbow to your wrist. And the “jewelry box” scene where Edward solemnly present Vivian with an expensive necklace, only to jocularly snap the box lid down on her fingers  is the epitome of this sweetly goofy and buddy-like atmosphere:

Imdb informs me that the finger-snap thing was a case of improvisation on Gere’s part, and that Roberts’ reaction is authentic. The fact that the scene works anyway goes to show how comfortable Gere and Roberts must have been with their respective roles.

“Stay. Stay the night with me. Not because I’m paying you, but because you want to.”
As a natural result of the fact that Richard Gere’s character TOTALLY HAS SEX WITH JULIA ROBERTS’ PROSTITUTE CHARACTER, there’s also the side plot of Vivan falling for someone who is essentially a customer. It’s not too badly handled, I think. There’s that whole thing about her not wanting to kiss on the mouth because it’s too intimiate (which was recently referenced in the hilarious Humpday btw), and Vivian has a monologue about how she’s basically “like a robot” during sex with customers, and later she tells him how she cried the whole way through her first sexual intercourse as a professional. Roberts does a decent job at depicting her journey from robot-like escort to actually being in love with Gere and wanting his touch instead of just accepting it. It’s a truly sweet moment when she finally allows herself to kiss him. Edward, too, has obviously been longing for that kind of intimacy with Vivian.

Still, of course the issue is not depicted in a realistic manner. It’s not supposed to. It’s a fairy-tale, and the movie owns up to as much in this nice little piece of dialogue between Vivian and her prostitute friend Kitt:

Kitt: “Maybe you guys could, like, you know, get a house together, and like… buy some diamonds and a horse, I dunno… It could work. It happens.”
Vivian: “When does it happen, Kitt? When does it really happen? Who does it really work for? (…) You give me one example of someone that we know who it worked out for.”
Kitt: “You want me to name someone? You want me to, like, give you a name or something?”
Vivian: “Yeah. I’d like a name.”
Kitt: “Oh God, the pressure of a name…”
Kitt: “Cinde-f*cking-rella!”

This also accounts for the happy ending where Edward mounts that staircase and wins Vivian’s heart, which is very, very saccharine, but still not quite as bad as the ending of Dirty Dancing (which I loathe. And I do think that Dirty Dancing has its qualities. But that ending, ugh). And I’m actually okay with the use of La Traviata, although I find it strange that Edward chooses Violetta’s second act goodbye as his staircase serenade instead of “Un di felice” which seems much more appropriate in the situation.

The soundtrack is pretty kewl all in all actually, in all its early 90s glory. Who can resist the melancholy pop wonder that is Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love” for instance? I certainly can’t. I bawled like an infant when that one came on.