Archive for the ‘Wonder Woman’ Category

Get Us Out From Under

February 4, 2008

I’ve been feeling skeevy over the Demonlover pics of a bound Wonder Woman that I’d uploaded last week, so, to counter the appropriation of Wonder Woman for Olivier Assayas’ evil, Gallic, purposes, I decided to dig out some early video art I collected years ago.

After digging a while, I ended up finding what I was looking for, namely Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman from 1978. Her video mix of moments from the Linda Carter Wonder Woman show stuff is pre-Youtube, dating back from when someone could call him or herself a “video artist” without embarrassment. You were still being pretentious, but there was some street cred in the pretentiousness. I’ve never had any interest in the Wonder Woman comic, but the tee vee show was monumental. I fondly remember fagging out in in the roller rink and doing Wonder Woman twirls as a little kid to the excruciated mortification of my brother.

The video is about the “stuttering” steps every “real” woman can take to symbolically transform into a superhero. It’s pretty commonplace now to take images from the mainstream media. What I like about it is how she uses condensation, fragmentation and repetition — all elements from dreams — to produce the structure of the video. It’s a dream where Wonder Woman cuts her own throat in the mirror, passes through the looking glass and changes out of work clothes, but more importantly changes into her fabulous cocktail party outfit. While sub-text emerges from the stutter-step progression of the video, Birnbaum also picks out the aspects of Wonder Woman she finds useful by spelling out the lyrics to “Wonder Woman in Discoland” — an awesome, ghetto-sounding song full of insinuation, “Wonder Woman, get us out from under.” (If anyone has an mp3 of this song, I’d appreciate a copy).

Ice Pick

Birnbaum was one of the pioneers of early video art, but this is unfortunately the only full-length piece by her I’ve ever seen. Youtube has some small clips, and I’d read that this is listed online as being 24 mins. If there’s a longer, “complete,” version out there I’d like to be made aware of it, though this 5 minute one is probably it. I’m glad. 24 minutes would get seriously annoying.


I also dug out and watched some Martha Rosler videos, including my favorite “Semiotics of the Kitchen,” which is basically Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxuelles on crack.

Back to Wonder Woman, this weekend I watched Matt Ogens’ Confessions of a Superhero. Since it’s the opposite of Birnbaum’s video, it focuses on people taking the superhero icon and using it to beg for spare change. Formally, it’s all about nearly freeze-framed composition, taking another route than that of a frenzied dream. It’s irresistible inasmuch as it’s a beautiful looking documentary and it’s about a bunch of superhero panhandling crazies. I’ll probably discuss it and post representative screen caps in another post.


Click Here to Find Me

January 27, 2008

You want to torture ZORA?
Send us your fantasy and we will make it real.


Olivier Assayas gets the spirit of the modern American teenager better than most when, in the epilogue of his film Demonlover, he depicts a teenage boy in a UCLA t-shirt using his father’s stolen credit card to dictate superhero latex fantasies on the Hellfire Club website (linked to from the fictitious ). Earlier we see Wonder Woman strapped to bed springs in the midst of her tortures, and this time it will be Storm. Wonder Woman and Storm are unsurprising symbols to find in this film – current long, circular, tortuous, and rarely levelheaded debates between socially conscious comics bloggers notwithstanding – as the pornutopic imagination that spawned Wonder Woman in the first place originally imagined her as a character in threat of constant bondage. Moreover, Storm started off as an African “Goddess,” but in a late eighties make-over by fan favorite perv, Chris Claremont, she came into her own as a leather-bound, mohawked, fetish figure (for more, see his magnum opus, Storm of the Arena — the comic run that definitively proved, for a few minutes, Fredric Wertham right). Strength brought low by a design flaw in character,* tragic hubris, blah blah blah, whatever.

“Wonder Woman” strapped to a bed prior to electro-torture.
The text flashing across the screen:
Click Here to Find Me

is a little more complicated than some story about either flawed will or indomitable wills. Comic properties are only glanced at here. More important are hard-core sex sites on the internet and pornographic animĂ©. Assayas gets it right because his film is a thoughtful attempt to figure what exactly America, France, and Japan’s respective places are in a the global economy of fantasy. It’s a prescient movie which prefigured many of the debates that broke out in 2007 and 2008 over gendered representations in pop art, including uncannily assimilating recent discussions about anime, porn and hentai.
But back in 2002 when this film appeared at Cannes to be largely ignored or stared at blankly, the place of fantasy, free time, credit, pornography and exploitation hadn’t lined up yet in a way that would allow people to make sense of it. The response at the premier was tepid indifference. Reportedly, the movie was a beautiful thing about ugly events that reviewers did not find legible. This was not like when Assayas mined France’s film history by sampling from Les Vampires for Irma Vep (1996). None of the materials depicted in Demonlover is second nature to any one culture.

Elise Lipskey corporate sabotages herself
with many fug blouses in this film.

Demonlover is a thriller, featuring the corporate sabotage of Diane de Monx (Connie Neilsen) as she attempts to sour a three-way deal between French businessman Henri-Pierre Volf (Jean-Baptiste Malartre) and TokyoAnime, as well as potential American distributors at on behalf of her secret American bosses at Mangatronics. Diane drugs and ambushes her opponents and wars in-house with her assistant, Elise Lipsky (Chloe Sevigny) while flirting with Hervé Le Millinec (Charles Berling). Diane quickly finds herself in over her head as her place gets trashed, she ends up in a murderous cat-fight with Gina Gershon, is eventually raped and finds herself sent off to be tortured at a rape camp. Heavy stuff!

Is this movie sexist? It’s hard to judge that when you’re looking at how abstract concepts about gender materialize, and even harder when you’re looking at this process in a movie. In the tradition of Barbaralla, this is a French ‘sploitation movie. So, yeah, probably it is. Still, what’s interesting about this movie is as technology advances — as the global economy becomes increasingly interdependent such that no one nation produces, manages and disseminates at the same time — the gendered stereotype of the rape-ready female body persists. Sketch art, cartooning, etc are methods of essentializing relations between people, refining them as one would refine perfume so that, for example, gender relations translate fluidly between Japan’s TokyoAnime’s 3-D labs, to the French board room (why are French corporate offices so much more stylish than American ones?) and down to teenage American boys’ bedrooms, eventually landing in Mexico-based white slavery camps. The question of child porn comes up in the plot only in terms of liability.

The French demand guarantees that none of the animations they buy can be based on drawings using under-age models. When the Japanese object that their images are not of under-age girls, they are forced to explain that representations of pubic hair are illegal in Japan. The French find this difficult to believe, but aren’t motivated by ethical concerns. They make it quite clear that they want as little information as possible, only legal guarantees that would void the deal should allegations of under-age models ever be proved.

Elise unwinds with her PS2. Ditches blouse.

There is what one might call a ‘feminist’ thesis to the film, though a controversial one. Basically, it holds that at one end of the international division of labor, there sits a bored sado-masochistic American teenage consumer living off his parent’s credit. At the other end is an exploited, often tortured female body performing manual labor. That’s kind of an extension of the MacKinnon anti-porn position, for which I have quite a bit of sympathy even if I am ambivalent about some of its assumptions. In my opinion, where her argument falters is that she has a difficult time expressing exactly what a material harm might be outside of a simple tort.

Coda: Thanks to Joss Whedon, we can now enjoy…

You’ve come a long way baby. (Astonishing X-Men #23)

* Connie Nielsen on her character Diane: “C’est quelqu’un qui prend des choix auxquelles elle n’est vraiment pas prepare, ni emotionellement, ni physiquement. Elle n’a pas la force, au fait, de sa propre choix. Et, elle decouvre ca un peu tard.”